Somewhere in Wyoming between Laramie and Cheyenne, a couple miles down a dusty gravel road off I-80 in the middle of nowhere, a mysterious pyramid suddenly juts out of the earth. This is the Ames Monument. But why is it THERE?
Once upon a time, the small railroad town of Sherman sat in the same area. Several hundred people lived in Sherman, which contained two hotels, a general store, two saloons, a post office, and a school. The town, founded in 1867, was on the Transcontinental Railroad route. Trains stopped there to change engines and to be inspected. Sherman existed because of the railroad and was an important stop.
In 1882, the Ames Monument was completed a quarter mile from Sherman and just to the south of the tracks. It was built to honor the Ames brothers, Oakes and Oliver, for their invaluable contribution in the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Oakes (1804-1873) was a US Representative from Massachusetts and Oliver, Jr. (1807-1877), was the president of Union Pacific Railroad. Together with their father, Oliver Ames, Sr. (1779-1863), they became rich during the Gold Rush by selling shovels to miners in California and Australia.
The brothers were later implicated in fraud associated with the financing of the railroad by bribing congressmen, inflating the construction cost, and pocketing up to US$50 million. This made the construction of the monument controversial, but in 1875, Union Pacific’s board of directors and its stockholders both voted to authorize the project.
Construction of the Monument
The monument sits near the highest elevation of the Transcontinental Railroad at 8,247 feet and was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. The Norcross brothers of Worcester, Massachusetts, oversaw its construction by employing 85 workers who lived in Sherman. The Ames Monument cost US$65,000, which was an astronomical amount of money back then. Today, that’s over US$1.5 million!
Measuring 60 feet on each side and standing 60 feet high, the pyramid was made of granite quarried from Reed’s Rock, a half-mile to the west. It was designed to blend into the mountain landscape.
The faces of the Ames brothers are represented by two 9 foot tall bas-relief portraits by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The portraits have succumbed to weather and vandalism over time and have lost some of their original lustre.
When the Ames Monument was completed, it was of such importance that even ex-President Rutherford B. Hayes attended its dedication ceremony. Passing trains would slow down or even stop so passengers could get a closer look at it. Unfortunately for the monument and the town of Sherman, the railroad tracks were relocated a few miles south in 1918 and the town was slowly abandoned. The ghost town of Sherman was later razed and the monument fell into oblivion.
To get to the Ames Monument Historic Site, take exit 329 on I-80 at Vedauwoo. Turn south onto Vedauwoo Road and then left onto Monument Road. Follow the road until you reach the small parking lot. It’s a state historic site open daily and there’s no admission. Climbing the monument is strictly prohibited. There are a few interpretive panels on the site to give more details.