Plains Hotel History
The Magic City of the Plains…
A name that Cheyenne earned in the golden age of the late 1800s. The elegant accommodations were enjoyed equally by cattle barons and oil tycoons, as well as travelers on their way to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
A little history on The Historic Plains Hotel
The Plains opened in 1911 as Cheyenne, Wyoming’s premier full service hotel. Distinctive features such as the Range Room Banquet Facility, Wigwam Lounge and two-story lobby mezzanine with stained glass skylight, and finely appointed guest rooms, made The Plains Hotel unequaled in the Intermountain West.
Before the era of the “West” with its cowboys and cowgirls, this land gave hospitality to man and beast. In those days, the nearby creek was wide and shallow with fertile banks and clear water. Game was plentiful and buffalos wallowed in their chosen spot. Native Americans passed through here as they followed a trail south to the chalk bluffs in quest of materials to make arrowheads. This land may have provided lodging for migrating tribes who camped on this site. It was always a haven for the trader.
The “West” came with white men from the East. In the fall of 1867, they chugged west in iron horses on iron rails and erased the pastoral landscape. The newcomers needed a place to rest that winter. A tent town, then a village, quickly sprouted up where only buffalo grass once grew. The crossing at Crow Creek was loud and rowdy, a real “Hell on Wheels.” Many of the buildings came from towns to the east on the rails, and they would be moved on again as more track was laid in a continuous ribbon to the Pacific Ocean. However, at this place named Cheyenne, people stayed. They quickly formed a government in the fall and winter of 1867-68. They built churches and established newspapers. The Union Pacific Railroad built a hotel and eating-house for sojourners. The city was on the map and from its beginning offered comfort and a touch of elegance.
Once it was known how mild the winters were and abundant nutritious short grass made it possible for animals to remain on the range all year, the cattlemen arrived. By 1878, a thriving cattle industry had developed making Laramie County considered the wealthiest county per capita in the United States. The wealthy built homes in the most lavish Victorian manner, and proper social decorum was in order. Many of these elegant mansions exist today.
A young blacksmith, Harry P. Hynds from Morris, Illinois stepped off the train in 1882 and immediately found employment. He was genial, hard working and blessed with a fine physique. Boxing was his hobby and he quickly became champion of the area in the 165-pound class. After two years, he opened his own smithy and in two more years abandoned his trade for the liquor business. By 1886 he was listed as proprietor of a saloon and gambling hall. The Capital Bar and Grill. Always amidst the action, he wisely invested in gold mines and the emerging petroleum industry.
Not surprising, when the construction of a new hotel was announced, Hynds would be involved with it. He was never an investor in the building itself, but he was one of the lessees of the separate company that operated the hotel. “Nothing but the best” was his motto and he furnished the hotel in that manner. Both Hynds and his wife, Nellie, took a deep interest in maintaining “their” hotel as one of the finest between the coasts.
The Plains Hotel was ready for business by March 9th, 1911. The building was five stories tall with a full basement. The public rooms were enhanced by mahogany in colonial style with plush carpets and finished in time and marble.
The newspaper stated that the new hostelry “Impresses one as a Palace.”
The lobby was the center of the ground floor and received its daylight through a skylight of stained glass. At night, softly shaded electric lights spread brilliance from heavy brass fixtures.
The front desk was solid marble guarded by an expensive bronze figure, stated to be an art masterpiece. The dining room was equipped with windows of art glass, a mahogany buffet and tables and chairs for 85 guests. The sleeping rooms were arranges with the comfort of the guests in mind. Each had colonial furniture or massive brass beds and access to a bathroom, if desired. All were well ventilated and each room had a telephone.
The walkway that connects the lobby of the hotel to Capitol Avenue was christened “Peacock Alley” and has been used for many things, i.e.; this spacious area had lounge chairs and the ever-present spittoons.
Chief little shield
The logo of the Plains Hotel that appears on the letterhead, china, the long outdoor sign and the tile inset on the street features Chief Little Shield, an Arapaho. In 1915, Little Shield brought some of his people to Cheyenne for Frontier Days. He was an Indian guest of the The Plains Hotel, but his friends stayed in tepees at Frontier Park. Chief Little Shield always washed up and dusted off at the horse trough across the street before coming inside The Plains to visit with his friends. So handsome was the young chief that Hynds had noted photographer J.E. Stimson take his photograph and that image has always been associated with The Plains Hotel. Sitting in regal style in the lobby, Chief Little Shield caused quite a stir among the other guests. He has never left his place as the symbol of The Plains Hotel, and the current owners are now the keepers of the tradition.
Each year during Cheyenne Frontier Days, The Plains Hotel, is honored by continued visits from Chief Little Shield’s descendants.
Appearing on scene in the mid-1930’s was a furniture maker in Cody, Wyoming, names Thomas Molesworth. He used polished native woods with American rugs, and motifs were also used to create handsome chairs and couches. He designed bars incised with tomahawks and chandeliers of wrought iron with silhouettes suggesting Indian villages. The lampshades were stretched hide colored with Indian designs.
In 1933, Mrs. Hynds redecorated the old hotel using a full complement of Molesworths finest creations. Today, pieces of Molesworth craftsmanship are highly sought after by collectors and that style set the theme for the 2002 renovation.
In late 1937, the hotel became the ‘place’ to host weddings, club events, dances, legislative parties and more.
When United Airlines established a stewardess school in the 40’s, the stewardesses-to-be would come to the Plains for relaxation in the Wigwam Lounge just off the “Alley.” Young swains gathered to strut their stuff and socialize with the never-ending supply of young women. There is no record who named it in 1911, but the well-used space has lived up to its name.
Some of our celebrities over the years have included President Harry S. Truman, Presidential candidates Tom Dewey, Richard Nixon, Ronald Regan and Ted Kennedy. Movie Stars such as Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Pat Wayne, Gilbert Roland, Sal Mineo, Ricardo Montalban Jimmy Stewart, Barbara Eden, and Debbie Reynolds to name a few.
Since the ‘face lift’ in 2002, The Plains Hotel has been brought back to its former glory. And along with that, the traditions of fine Western Hospitality still exist today. The elegance of the Old West awaits you at The Historic and Colorful Plains Hotel!
1600 Central Ave. Cheyenne Wyoming 82001 map • Phone: (307)638-3311 • Toll Free: (866)2-PLAINS • Professionally Operated by Providence Hospitality Partners