Evanston, the county seat of Uinta County, is located in the southwestern corner of the state in the Bear River Valley. Union Pacific Railroad Chief Engineer Grenville Dodge named the town for James Evans, who surveyed the eastern half of the railroad's route through Wyoming Territory and probably never set eyes on his namesake.
Evanston's first structure and business enterprise was a tent saloon erected by Harvey Booth in November 1868 as the UP tracks reached the point where they turned westward from the Bear River Valley toward Echo Canyon and Utah. But the town’s real life began in late 1870 when the railroad chose Evanston as the locomotive service and crew division point between Ogden, Utah, and Green River, Wyo.
Dodge platted the town in December 1870, orienting its main streets to the railroad tracks rather than to compass points. All the streets in Evanston's core run northeast-southwest and northwest-southeast.
In 1871, the UP constructed a 20-stall stone roundhouse just northwest of the center of town, to service locomotives. In addition to train crews and roundhouse workers, the railroad also employed section crews who lived in camps along the tracks and were responsible for maintaining and repairing six-mile stretches, or sections, of the tracks and rights of way.
Chinese in Evanston
Chinese contract laborers were among the earliest residents of Evanston. They worked on section crews and as coal miners at the UP mines at Almy, about seven miles to the northwest—down the Bear River—from town. The 1880 census listed more than 100 Chinese in Evanston. In addition to being employed by the railroad, many worked in stores and restaurants. Some operated businesses such as laundries and groceries, while others raised and sold vegetables.
Most of the Chinese lived along the banks of the Bear River across the tracks from downtown. In its heyday in the 1880s, Chinatown, as it was called locally, comprised several dozen residences, a community hall or tong house and, most notably, a temple—known to whites as the Joss House. The elaborately decorated temple also served as a hostel for overnight visitors to Chinatown. The Chinese staged lavish New Year's celebrations at the end of winter on the traditional Chinese calendar, including a dragon parade through downtown and fireworks.
Following the Rock Springs, Wyo., massacre of Chinese in 1885, Evanston's Chinese population dropped dramatically: just 43 in 1900 and fewer than a dozen in 1920. In 1922, the Joss House burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances. Just a day or two earlier, the Union Pacific had ordered the few remaining Chinese to vacate the building. Some people in Evanston believe the UP set the fire, others think the Chinese burned the building themselves.
Whatever the cause, there must have been some warning of it, for many decorative items were salvaged from the building, including the richly carved cedar wood panels that flanked the front door. The door panels now hang in the Chinese Joss House Museum, a replica of the original temple that stands in Evanston's Depot Square.
The last two Chinese of the first generation of immigrants lived into the 1930s. They were Long Lock Choong, a vegetable gardener known as Mormon Charlie, and Ah Yuen, known as China Mary. Her origins were mysterious, but she was reputedly a prostitute. They died within months of each other in 1939 and were buried in the potter’s field section of the city cemetery.
Soon after the town was founded, a small commercial district had sprung up in a four-block area adjacent to the UP tracks. One of the earliest businesses was the Blyth & Fargo Company, originally Blyth & Pixley, a general store established in 1872. First located on Front Street, the business moved one block west to Main Street in 1887. The Beeman-Cashin General Store took up the full length of the block on Tenth Street between Front and Main Streets; its specialty was farm and ranch supplies and equipment.
Joining the commercial structures on Main and Front streets were public buildings, including the county courthouse (1874) at the northeast end and the Evanston town hall and fire station (1915) on the southwest. The UP constructed a brick depot in 1900 to replace the first wooden one. A federal courthouse and post office was built in 1905. According to local lore, the only trial ever held in the courtroom was that of a bootlegger in the 1920s.
In 1906, the Carnegie Library was completed on Front Street; the building now houses the Uinta County Museum. The Masonic Lodge (1910) and the Strand Theater (1917) completed Evanston's downtown landscape. With its handsome brick buildings, Evanston was an economically and socially stable community at the beginning of the 20th century, serving as a commercial and service center for the surrounding area.
While the railroad formed Evanston's backbone, the Wyoming State Hospital was also a significant economic mainstay in the community. Established by the Territorial Legislature as the Wyoming Insane Asylum, the hospital was opened in 1889 and located on one hundred acres donated to the territory by a local landowner. The hospital's older brick buildings sit on a north-facing hill overlooking the town and the Bear River. From the beginning, the hospital was a major employer in town, hiring local residents for patient care, maintenance and farm work. The older part of the campus was placed on the National register of Historic Places in 2003. Over the years, hundreds of Evanstonians have worked at the hospital, making it an integral part of the social fabric of the community.
About the Author
Barbara Allen Bogart, Ph. D., has worked as a historian and oral historian in Wyoming since 1991. She served on the staff of the Wyoming State Museum, has worked as a consultant for several Wyoming museums and historical societies, and was director of the Uinta County Museum from 2003 to 2009. She is the author of Images of America: Evanston (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing Co., 2009) as well as In Place: Stories of Landscape and Identity from the American West (Glendo, Wyo: High Plains Press, 1995).