LOVELL, Wyo. — On a tour of the Lovell-Kane Area Museum, museum president Karen Spragg points out a wood-and-glass display case.
In the 1800s, the display case sat inside the Quarnstrom store, saloon and hotel in Kane, Wyoming, Spragg tells a visitor.
“But liquor was never served out of the saloon,” she said. “If the cowboys wanted to buy liquor or have a drink, they had to get on the morning train about 11, go to Greybull and do their drinking or buy their jug and come back on the 3 o’clock train.”
The case is just one of many pieces of furniture, photographs, clothing and other items inside the Lovell museum. Housed in a newly remodeled home in the small northern Wyoming town, the museum contains the history of Lovell and other nearby locales — some, like Kane, which no longer exist.
Spragg was raised in Kane, now a ghost town about seven miles east of Lovell.
“My mother was postmistress down there when they closed it,” she said.
It happened in 1965, when residents were offered buyouts for their property, in advance of the construction of the Yellowtail Dam.
“And if (the landowners) didn’t take the offered price, they condemned their land and they had to move anyway,” Spragg said.
She walks through the museum with a tale to tell about nearly every piece on display, joined by Rich Fink, the museum’s vice president.
A framed black-and-white photograph on the wall features Henry Clay Lovell, who settled the ML Ranch in 1882 and helped pioneers who came into the area to settle. Lovell was named in his honor.
“He had a cattle ranch that went from Thermopolis to the Pryor Mountains,” Spragg said. “He ran like 25,000 head of cattle and in a blizzard in the 1880s, 12,000 froze to death.”
A narrow-waisted black dress on display belonged to Beulah Patton, who arrived in Lovell in 1925 on the train with five children and her husband.
“We don’t dress like that anymore, let alone travel on the train,” she said. “It has two petticoats, one black one and one white one.”
Fink, a military history buff, nods toward one corner that displays uniforms from various military eras. He points to a photograph of rows of soldiers, including his father, Fred Fink, who served in the 115th Cavalry as a farrier in World War II.
The museum also features the history of other tiny towns. They include Dryhead, Spence, Himes, Crystal Creek, Hillsboro and Crooked Creek.
The different rooms have themes, from military to fashion to specific towns and their industries. Many of the items have been donated or purchased at yard sales and auctions.
For Spragg, it’s a labor of love.
“I’ve always been interested in history and genealogy,” she said, sitting at a small table inside the museum. “And I just love seeing the old things and learning the stories of the people in this area.”
The idea for a museum came up back in 2000, when Spragg and her cousins put together a scrapbook of Kane for her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. The scrapbook garnered interest as she showed it to members of the community, including one person who said Spragg needed to open a museum.
With help, she started visiting other museums, figuring out what it would take to do that. Then Spragg starting calling people, asking if they would be willing to serve on the board.
In 2011, the board started meeting, collecting historical items and holding fundraisers. When the town’s Chamber of Commerce offered space for a museum in 2014, the group jumped at the opportunity.
In early 2017, Spragg got a call from Loretta Bischoff, who had a rental house in Lovell.
“She said, ‘would you like that house for a museum?’ ” Spragg said.
The museum’s board quickly agreed, and renovation began. It cost the $24,000 that supporters had raised over the years to install new flooring and lights and paint the interior, knock out some walls and relocate the bathroom.
The museum, located at 354 Oregon Ave., had a soft opening in June and the grand opening and ribbon-cutting in mid-August. It is open, thanks to volunteer help, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment only once winter hours kick in on Sept. 18.
“We’re very short of storage space, so we’re looking at getting a safe to put originals and delicate (pieces) in,” Spragg said. “From day one Loretta has said the house is not big enough, but I don’t care. It’s wonderful.”
New items come in daily, she said. On the day of the interview, Spragg had gotten a 1917 campaign hat and a scale replica of a hay stacker.
Like Spragg, Fink would much rather have people donate the historical objects they no longer want than toss them out.
“What we’ve seen is these elderly people pass away and their kids take the stuff and haul it to the dump because it means nothing to them,” he said. “We’re throwing away history, and there’s so much history there.”
The museum relies on fundraisers to continue operations. It originally received some of its funding from the city of Lovell, but then city officials determined donations could not be made to a private entity.
Instead, Spragg is looking into grants and other potential sources. An anonymous gift will help cover the ongoing costs of utilities.
But Fink said it will take everyone working together to continue the work.
“I just hope we can get the community to support us to keep it open,” he said.