LARAMIE — Just before the end of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln met with Oakes Ames, a founding member of the Massachusetts Republican Party, to discuss expanding the nation's transportation system. Lincoln had signed the Pacific Railway Act in 1862, authorizing the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, but after the long and difficult war years, not a single mile of track had been laid.
"Lincoln called Oakes in on Jan. 20, 1865, and said, 'This railroad project just isn't getting off the ground,'" Anna Lee Ames Frohlich, Oakes Ames' great-great-great granddaughter, said. "He asked for Oakes' help."
Later that year, Ames and his brother, Oliver Ames, pledged $45 million to the railroad project.
"That didn't mean that he would have to spend it, but he would back it if necessary," Frohlich explained. "In the end, he ended up paying the last $8 million in debt for the railroad out of his family's pocket."
Today, Frohlich and several others are working to have Ames Monument, which is dedicated to the brothers, listed as a national historic landmark through the National Parks Service. It is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but landmark status is considerably more prestigious, according to Larry Ostresh, vice president of the Laramie Railroad Depot Association.
The monument is a 60-foot high granite pyramid located on West Vedauwoo Road in southeastern Albany County. The state took ownership of the monument in 1983 from the Union Pacific Land Company, Upland Industries, Frohlich said.
State officials, volunteers and contractors have been working on restoration and upkeep since the fall. They have removed lichen from its exterior, repointed the stonework and restored the soil around the base, according to Ostresh. Future planned improvements include new signage, road improvements and a parking lot near the monument.
It appears to be solid, but a large passageway not open to the public traverses its entire perimeter. A team of volunteers recently explored, measured, photographed and recorded the inside. The entrance to the monument was sealed off after the exploration.
The Albany County Commission approved a $6,500 grant agreement to be sent to the State Historic Preservation Office to nominate Ames Monument as a national historic landmark on Tuesday.
The monument was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, a pre-eminent American architect, in the late 19th century. Builder and civil engineer Orlando Whitney Norcross assisted Richardson in the design and construction, and prominent American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens created the bas-relief likenesses of the Ames brothers on two of the four monument sides.
Oakes Ames died in 1873, six years before the Union Pacific decided to erect the monument and dedicate it to the Ames brothers, Frohlich said. Oliver Ames lived to see it designed in 1879, but it was Oliver's son, Fred Ames, who was most involved in its placement and development.
"It was placed at the highest point on the Transcontinental Railroad and serves as a splendid reminder of that great enterprise," Frohlich said.
The monument once sat about a quarter-mile from the now-defunct Wyoming town of Sherman at about 8,200 feet above sea level.
The design itself is still a mystery, Frohlich said. Richardson may have been influenced by pre-Columbian styles, the landscape in the area or the idea that the Ames brothers and several others who spearheaded railroad construction were the "kings of the railroad."
"This deserves the recognition that it has lost over the years. It has just blended into the area, and yet it stands for an enormous feat that many, many people took part in," Frohlich said."It is a fascinating architectural and artistic piece. It has historical value, it also has artistic value."