Supporting the Revival of Old Stoney
Monday, August 13, 2018
There’s incredible value in preserving historic buildings. Along with the architecture of another era, these structures are physical reminders of the unique natural history of a place.
An iconic old schoolhouse in downtown Sundance, Wyoming is being preserved, thanks to the efforts of the Crook County Museum as well a State Lands and Investments Board grant, Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund grant and donations from community members, companies and businesses.
The building, nicknamed “Old Stoney” by area residents, was originally built in 1923. It’s composed of sandstone from the Bear Lodge Mountains as well as a cornerstone rock from the Devils Tower National Monument.
In 1985, Old Stoney was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It served as a high school and elementary school before being abandoned in 1972. The building sat vacant for years and was falling into disrepair.
Over 20 years ago, the Heritage Association was formed to save the building from getting torn down. About a decade ago, Rocky Courchaine and Pam Thompson, director of the Crook County Museum and chair of the Crook County Museum District board, respectively, and other Sundance residents started some serious fundraising. Slowly, they pieced together the funds to make the project a reality.
The near-century-old building is now undergoing phase one of a major renovation plan. The vision is to turn Old Stoney into a focal point of the town. A part of the Wyoming Main Street project, it’s expected to improve the town’s economic viability, serving as a tourist attraction as well as a local center for cultural gatherings and events.
The main floor of the building will serve as home to the Crook County Museum. This local gem has 14,000 artifacts that tell a fascinating story of the Old West. Sundance has the distinction of being the only place where horse thief Harry "Sundance Kid" Longabaugh served time — and earned his nickname. Museum visitors can learn about the Sundance Kid’s trial and check out a range of historic exhibits and dioramas.
The lower level of the building will serve as archival storage. The sub-basement will house the museum office and gift store as well as meeting rooms and offices that can be rented out.
The first phase of renovations will include the main floor and the sub-basement and should be completed in late winter. The museum is planning a February move from its current location in the county courthouse.
Active fundraising is still going on for the second phase of the Old Stoney project. “We’re still fundraising and we have a long way to go for phase two, which entails work on the auditorium, a major part of the building,” Courchaine says.
Renovating the building’s once stately auditorium will help sustain the museum because the 230-seat auditorium will be rented out for meetings, conventions, reunions, weddings, music, historic interpreters and other events.
“It’s going to be such a beautiful space when we get it done, just like it was when it was built,” says Courchaine, noting that it has massive windows and original maple floors.
In February, Powder River Energy Corporation (PRECorp) donated $13,750 to the museum board in support of the Old Stoney project. PRECorp has a goal of facilitating economic development in the communities it serves in northeastern Wyoming. A request for a matching donation for the project from PRECorp’s wholesale power provider, Basin Electric was granted in July, raising the total project donation to $27,500.
“PRECorp and Basin Electric are pleased to be a part of this important project. We believe the Old Stoney project and the additional green space created will assist in Sundance’s downtown revitalization effort and prove to be the centerpiece of the main street,” says Jeff Bumgarner, vice president of member service and executive director of the PRECorp Foundation.
This funding is earmarked toward Old Stoney’s capital campaign. Courchaine says he’s excited about this and all the support the project has received so far and notes that Old Stoney will be a significant asset for the area.
“This project will improve the whole county and provide us with important opportunities,” says Courchaine. “It will serve as a place to go for entertainment. People don’t have to go to South Dakota anymore, they can stay closer to home.”