National Register of Historic Places


Hotel LaBonte

Douglas

Date Added to Register

Friday, October 10, 2008

Smithsonian Number

48CO2999

Read all about it

The Hotel LaBonte is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A. The hotel, erected in 1913 and opened in January 1914, was a community project and part of the expansion and remaking of downtown Douglas during the 1910s. Local businessmen formed the Douglas Hotel Company to finance the construction of a building that the company would retain ownership of and lease. The Hotel LaBonte is the physical expression of the prosperity and the aspirations of the residents of Douglas for a modern hotel, as well as the Douglas building boom of the period. The Hotel LaBonte, which remains in use, initially housed train passengers, local ranchers, Wyoming residents in town for the County Court session, and motorists on the Yellowstone Highway.

The Hotel LaBonte is a three-story brick building located at the northeast corner of North Second and Walnut streets in downtown Douglas. The hotel, which has a U-shaped form with east and west wings flanking a recessed central wing and enclosing a courtyard, has the symmetry and formality of the neo-Renaissance style and is enriched with terra cotta elements. The ground floor level has two storefronts in the west wing and the hotel dining room in the east wing. Columns, a beamed ceiling, and ornate tile floor carry the architectural stylishness of the exterior into the hotel lobby, which retains its historic character. A renovation of the Hotel LaBonte building that began in 1967 and another one as part of the reconstruction after a fire in 1981 introduced replacement windows, the dance hall addition, new signage, an exterior entrance in the south end of the east wing, and internal changes.

The Hotel LaBonte has excellent integrity with regards to design and workmanship. Though changes have been made to the ground story and replacement windows have been installed, the building also has good overall integrity in terms of materials. The hotel lobby has very good integrity in design, materials, and workmanship. The hotel building has excellent integrity in location, setting, feeling and association as it continues to serve its original functions as a hotel with hospitality services on the ground floor.

Douglas, an east central Wyoming city on the North Platte River, is located in close proximity to various transportation routes. Douglas is near the Oregon Trail and the southern end of the Bozeman Trail. The construction of a railroad line that paralleled the route of the Oregon Trail brought about Douglas.

Douglas experienced an immediate boom in population that reached 1,600 by the end of 1886. The first buildings erected in Douglas included five brick ones. A group of citizens worked to organize a municipal government, and in September 1887 the town of Douglas was incorporated. Douglas was selected as the county seat in 1887 when Converse County was separated from Albany and Laramie Counties. The federal land office established in Douglas in 1890 upon Wyoming achieving statehood made it easier to homestead and purchase land in the county. The railroad provided a means to ship livestock, and a cattle and sheep industry grew up in the area surrounding Douglas. Stagecoaches carried mail and passengers from the railroad line in Douglas to the regional towns of Buffalo, Sheridan, Rock Creek, and Laramie. Cattlemen and then sheepmen settling in and near the town, along with businesses related to agriculture, rescued Douglas from a major drop in population during the late 1880s and made it a thriving small town. A small commercial district grew up near the railroad line on North Second Street, the eventual home of the Hotel LaBonte. Douglas grew rapidly for the second time between 1900, when it had 734 residents, and 1910, when the population was 1,512.

Douglas acquired an additional railroad connection; the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (Burlington) Railroad reached Douglas in 1914. During the 1920s, the C&NW and Burlington lines ran six passenger trains daily supplemented by locals with passenger cars. Douglas had daily passenger train service from 1888 to the mid-1960s.

This additional railroad link and a location on the Yellowstone Highway contributed to the prosperity of Douglas through the 1910s and early 1920s. The Good Roads Club of Douglas, which was founded in 1910 and evolved into the Chamber of Commerce, lobbied for and promoted the Yellowstone Highway, a route that connected Denver with Yellowstone Park, and Douglas became a stopping place for motorists between the national park and Denver. The Yellowstone Highway, discussed as early as 1912 and celebrated with an official guidebook in 1916, was absorbed by the “Park to Park Highway,” which eventually connected all the major national parks in the west. During the mid-1920s, the Yellowstone Highway east of the national park became US 20. Thousands of tourists drove the gravel highway during the summer months.

Hotels and rooming houses were an important component of the commercial economy of Douglas, which was a transportation, local government, ranching, and shipping center. Ranchers visiting town for a few days needed accommodations and court sessions at the Converse County Courthouse were busy times in Douglas. The property known both as the Valley House and later as the Davis Hotel, located on the south side of Center Street next to the rail line, was opened for business in December 1886.

By 1913, Douglas needed an additional hotel and seven men met in early January in the office of E. T. (Edward T.) David to consider the challenge and ended up pledging $12,500 worth of stock at that initial meeting. The Douglas Hotel Company was incorporated in February 1913 to ensure that the community would have a first class hotel. The company raised $25,000 through the sale of shares in order to build the hotel, which it would lease to an operator. The company planned to erect a three-story hotel with at least 50 rooms costing at least $50,000. Within the month, all $25,000 worth of bonds were subscribed.

The Douglas Hotel Company engaged the architectural firm of the Baerresen Brothers, which had offices in Cheyenne and Denver, to provide plans for the hotel. Edward Reavill’s construction firm was at work on the new building by April 1913. Twenty-five tons of steel beams formed the trusses that supported the second floor above the open spaces of the lobby, dining room, and other public spaces. The local Douglas pressed brick plant supplied the brick for the hotel. By the time the hotel was opened for business on January 26, 1914, it was the Hotel LaBonte. The name refers to the LaBonte pony express and stage station on the Overland Trail, which was located southeast of Douglas and named after a hunter of a French father and mother from Kentucky who was raised in Mississippi.

The rooms in the Hotel LaBonte had all the modern technology and safety features of the era, as well as luxurious furnishings. Electric lights, steam heat, and hot and cold running water were available throughout the hotel and telephones were placed in each of the 54 guest rooms. Twelve of the larger rooms had full bathrooms; the rest had sinks. The rooms were furnished with brass bedsteads, heavy rugs, and leather-covered mahogany and oak furniture. A pair of fire escapes was attached to the north side of the building at the north ends of the side corridors. The Douglas Hotel Company’s ownership of the hotel made it as much a community project as a private business. The newspaper editor wrote of the new hotel as an important community asset and a testament to its supporters’ faith in the future of Douglas.

The size, materials, and architectural expression of the Hotel LaBonte are consistent with the construction that took place in Douglas circa 1915 and are the physical expression of the prosperity and aspirations for modernity, as well as the Douglas building boom of the time. Architects from Denver designed the more important projects of this era, and the Douglas Hotel Company engaged the Baerresen Brothers to provide plans for the hotel. The hotel design emphasizes the size and massing of the building and approaches the physical presence of a civic building. The neo-Classical form and detailing is consistent with the design preferences of the era and the civic and commercial buildings erected in Douglas. Despite the changes made to the ground floor level, the Hotel LaBonte still represents the increase in size and formality between the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century hotels erected in small Wyoming cities.

The Hotel LaBonte is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A in the area of Community Development and Planning. The construction of the Hotel LaBonte in 1913 represents the maturation and modernization of Douglas as a commercial, transportation, and local governmental center in Converse County. The Hotel LaBonte, one of the largest of the new buildings erected in Douglas between 1913 and 1916, was the result of the resolve of a group of prominent Douglas citizens that the city would have a modern hotel. The Hotel LaBonte, financed by the wealth of the local cattle and sheep operations and related businesses, was a local project as much as a commercial venture. The hotel served businessmen associated with the local agricultural and energy operations and county residents, as well as travelers to the State Fair and was on one of the major routes to Yellowstone Park, contributing to the city’s tourism industry.

Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources