Western History Center moves to Sunrise

Courtesy photo/for the Lingle Guide Students excavated a stratified site on the Hageman ranch in Goshen County.

LINGLE – The Western History Center, previously in Lingle, has been moved to the mining ghost town of Sunrise, with the hopes of attracting more guests and volunteers.

It also now sits only a few yards away from an archeological site that is over 13,000 years old, according to archaeologist George Ziemens.

Although the new center is not yet open to the public, all the historic and prehistoric artifacts once in Lingle will be moved to the historic YMCA building in the privately owned ghost town.

The idea to move the Western History Center came up about a year ago, according to George Ziemens, who is an archaeologist and is heavily involved with the Western History Center and the Western Plains Historic Preservation Association (WPHPA).

Also involved with the WPHPA is Geri Ziemens, George’s wife.

“The revenue isn’t huge,” Geri said. The organization hasn’t been able to pay a full-time employee to run the center.” She said, with the move to Sunrise, they expect a higher number of potential volunteers.

George said, the YMCA building, built in 1917 and structurally sound, was donated to the organization last fall by John Voight, owner of Sunrise.

George said he talked to the board of directors for the WPHPA about moving to this newly donated building and “they were 100% in favor of it.” Shortly after, volunteers began moving artifacts.

Upcoming Events

There will be a ribbon cutting and fundraising event for the YMCA building on May 15. The event, lasting from 2-4 p.m., will also feature a tour of Sunrise, a meal and project updates. Donations will go toward a new roof, electrical, HVAC and plumbing.

The next scheduled tour is on June 26. Visitors will be able to see an archaeological site, history center and tour the town. George said they also do tours upon request.

This summer, the youth program will continue as well. Started more than 30 years ago, youth have been able to learn about the area’s history and prehistory by working to uncover artifacts at an archeological site. Geri said one year, students were given the chance to excavate mammoth tusks.

History of the Western History Center

The Western Plains Historic Preservation Association was established by a group of interested community members in 1989.

When George decided to end his time as Wyoming State Archaeologist in the 1980s, he went into the livestock business. George said since people knew he was an archaeologist, many would approach him about sites on their properties.

Needing resources, the WPHPA was formed. Gerri said originally, they had been putting artifacts in a storage unit.

“An archaeological site is a nonrenewable resource,” said George, “and we knew we needed to share it with the public.”

The first Western History Center opened Main Street in Lingle. Later, they decided to build a new space to continue to share the resource with the public.

“A good use of the resource is when people can learn from it. That’s what it’s all about,” George said.

The two expect the center’s new location will expand the number of people who can learn about the historic high plains.

According to Geri, all of the artifacts from the displays in Lingle will be able to be viewed in Sunrise. The center will take visitors through different time periods, from 13,000 years ago to the time of the Oregon Trail, according to George.

A significant number of people in Goshen County have ties to Sunrise, according to Geri. She said many have worked or gone to school there or have relatives who did.

George said the town was and still is home to the largest iron mine west of the Mississippi. After the start of mining there in 1900, the mine closed in 1980.

"It's the only site like that in North America."

Sunrise is also home to the oldest archeological site in North America, according to George. This site was discovered less than 200 yards from the YMCA building.

The site, called Powars II, is a rich site, holding a lot of artifacts and data according to George.

“Right now, we’re getting visitors from all over the world because it’s a one-of-a-kind site,” he said.

The crew has found artifacts pointing to Paleo-Indian mining in the area. These people minded not for iron itself, but for red ochre, used as pigment.

“It’s the kind of site that may become a World Heritage Site,” George said. “That’s how important the site is.”

An organization was formed to manage the site and a few others in the area -–Sunrise Historic and Prehistoric Preservation Society (SHAPPS).

SHAPPS will continue to dig in the area and hope to establish a research center in the area.

Editor's Note

The article titled “Western History Center moves to Sunrise” in the Friday, April 16, edition of The Lingle Guide states George Ziemens is an architect. This statement is incorrect as Mr. Ziemens is an archeologist and not an architect. We apologize for the error, and we have corrected it in this update.

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