In 1940, amateur historian Rev. Hugh Fulton petitioned the county commissioners to set aside a room in the new county courthouse for a museum. The new county courthouse opened to the public on August 30 of that year, with a small room on the northeast corner of the second floor dedicated as a museum. The museum was open during regular courthouse hours. Admission was free and the museum had an open-door policy. Vandalism quickly ended this and the museum became available by appointment only.
The first collection the museum acquired was that of rancher A.A. Harper, who had passed away on November 16, 1938. Harper’s daughter had two large, locked cases custom-made to display his smaller items. Rev. Fulton and County Librarian, Miss Margaret Goodrich, began the work of collecting artifacts through gifts and loans.
As of January 2013, the museum collection includes 30,000 objects, which have been stored and exhibited in a former church since 1976. The museum has a full-time staff of seven, with two regular part-time and occasional seasonal/temporary employees. It is the only museum in the county to be open year-round. Admission has always been free.
A Timeline of Carbon County Museum History:
1944Rev. Fulton leaves Rawlins. Without him, the museum’s future is uncertain.
1947Mrs. Katherine Bennett and her neighbor, Mrs. Geraldine Brimmer receive permission to take charge of the museum. On Friday, August 15, the museum re-opens with regular hours of 1-4 pm on Fridays only. They begin cataloguing and identifying all donations and loans with supplies purchased at their own expense. They also establish the museum’s first guest register.
1950The Sheriff’s Office donates the lower cranium of “Big Nose” George Parrot.
1961Members of the Carbon County Historical Society request a threemember board to oversee the museum. The County Commissioners comply and the first board members are Kleber Hadsell, Alex Gordon and Ed Tierney. The county also grants a levy of .03 mills for operating expenses.
1965The C. W. Jeffrey Center is completed, opening up the community room on the ground floor of the courthouse for the museum. The new space is six times larger than the original room.
1971The museum obtains its Thomas Alva Edison exhibit. These artifacts, many of which are on loan from the Edison Fund in Newark, New Jersey, comprise the only dedicated Edison exhibit in Wyoming.
1975The museum moves to 904 West Walnut Street.
1976The museum opens at 904 West Walnut Street. The staff goes from volunteer to paid at this time. The museum obtains a sheep wagon.
1980A decommissioned 1920 La France fire truck is obtained, necessitating the addition of a garage to the building in order to house it.
1984The Rawlins National Bank closes its museum and donates Dr. Osborne’s “Big Nose” George Parrot shoes to the museum.
1990Rancher Jim Baker donates the one-room Sweetwater Schoolhouse.
1993A representation of a Native American eagle catching ceremony is commissioned from taxidermist John Spehar and put on display.
2004The museum hosts its first traveling exhibit it, the photography of Mike McClure.
2005First museum website.
2007The museum wins a Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office conservation award in for the work of conservator Terry Schindle on its Wyoming State Flag.
2009An inventory project is begun with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences. The Pastport program is initiated with county-wide museums, establishing the Carbon County Museum Consortium.
2011The museum participates in a unified branding initiative with the City of Rawlins and various county entities, and publishes its Institutional Style Book. In March, Trails and Rails and Home on the Range exhibits open. They are the museum’s first modern exhibitions, and the first time construction has been completed in the galleries.
2012A Carbon County District 1 Recreation Board Grant pays for the addition of a dedicated storage facility on the southern side of the museum. The building is climate controlled and has storage units in compliance with industry standards. The museum begins offering standards-aligned educational programming, both on-site and in the county’s public schools. In April, the museum co-hosts its first annual Native American Symposium with Carbon County Higher Education Center.In June, the exhibit ADAPTATIONS: Changing American Indian Lifestyles in Carbon County opens, showcasing the newly conserved Sioux war bonnet and hide painting. In October, the museum receives a resin cranial casting of the skull and skullcap of “Big Nose” George Parrot from the Department of Archeology at the University of Wyoming. The actual lower cranium, which had been on display continuously since 1950, is placed in appropriate storage.
2013The museum opens its first dedicated hands-on educational and exhibit space for children, the Discovery Zone. A new website is launched, in accordance with the museum’s branding strategy, with funding from the Colorado Wyoming Association of Museums. In August, the museum hosts its first High Plains Powwow. On December 30, Carbon County purchases the Hugus-Ferguson building in downtown Rawlins with the intent of renovating it and making it the future home of Carbon County Museum & Research Center.