Editor's note: This article originally appeared Sept. 6, 2020.
The house in Laramie that locals call “the Old Carroll House” takes the prize for having the most confusing history in town. It is located at 468 W. Kearney St. on the West Side. When it was built there probably were no streets, and when streets were put in, the street in front of it was known as “E” St. In 1889 the City Council changed the street name to Kearney.
This innocuous-seeming house has been the subject of controversy recently, and delving back a little into history does almost nothing to clarify its situation. A complication arises because the house was there before the land was platted into lots for residential housing. Reports are that Irish immigrant and Laramie pioneer Michael Arthur Carroll (1834-1900) built the house around 1869 on the ranch he founded in 1866 along the Big Laramie River on his “homestead” between the railroad and the river.
BLOCKS THE STREET
John Lucero, owner/broker of Laramie Renaissance Realty, happened to be touring the Ivinson Mansion one day last year. Looking at an 1885 map of Laramie on display, he pointed to the Carroll house on the map and said to me “they won’t let me sell that house for the owners because the city says it’s in an illegal place.”
The house was certainly in a strange place on that old map, smack in the middle of West Kearney St., which is shown on the 1885 map as a complete street between Cedar and Spruce. But that complete street was only on paper because today it is only a half-block long; the pavement ends abruptly at the house’s front yard although the suggestion of a street continues in an unpaved path that jogs around the house.
WHO OWNS THE STREET?
When developers plat out land for residential housing, they provide space for streets, and donate the streets to the city as rights-of-way for access to the lots that they hope to sell. That process has been going on ever since the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) laid out the “Original Town” lots on the east side of the railroad track. Lots on the west side of the railroad to the River are slightly later subdivisions, called “Hodgeman” or “Fees” for the names of early residents.
The house at 468 W. Kearney is legally described as being within Hodgeman’s Addition. Whoever designed the plat map that was copied in the 1885 Laramie map either did not check to see if the street layout was possible, or was intentionally creating problems for Michael Carroll, owner and builder of the house in the middle of one of the streets.
Because the plat map shows Kearney as a through street, the city seems to own the donated land comprising the entire street, including the portion that is under the house. Therein lies the problem.
PIONEER MICHAEL CARROLL'S CLAIM
A wagon master with the Army, Michael Carroll had already been through this area several times, freighting military supplies along the Overland Trail. Carroll was familiar with the future site of Fort Sanders, laid out in 1866, a few miles south of where Spring Creek joins the Big Laramie River. He probably brought supplies to build the Fort.
Michael Carroll’s 1866 homestead application for land north of the Fort probably exists somewhere, but future events make it hard to say who owned the land shortly afterward, even if Carroll’s homestead application and patent deed were to be found. Carroll sold some, there were court cases, and a petition to the U.S. Land Office.
After all was said and done, ranch historian Dicksie Knight May has learned that Carroll ended up owning only 40 acres on the west side of the railroad — most of Optimist Park and the area where his house sits. Before his death, he sold much of his Laramie holdings to the Laramie, Hahns Peak and Pacific Railway for their shops and tracks in town.
Carroll certainly thought he had ownership of much more land. One of the first ranchers within the city limits of Laramie was Jackson Brown, whose 1878 obituary states that he bought acreage on the south edge of Laramie (now the Undine Park area) from Carroll around 1868 and built his home and ranch buildings along Spring Creek.
U.S. MILITARY CLAIM
Confusion resulted when the U.S. War Department inexplicably extended the boundary of Fort Sanders to include most of the original town of Laramie on June 28, 1869. Kim Viner called that “Laramie’s Fort Sanders Problem” in a story posted on the Albany County Historical Society’s website. Enlarging the Fort from six to nine square miles created problems for all Laramie pioneers who bought lots from the UPRR on the east side of Laramie.
The UPRR sold lots that the railroad didn’t actually own, or so the military could claim. Purchasers could not get clear title to their lots until June 9, 1874, when the Fort was reduced to close to its original size by the U.S. Congress.
Michael Carroll’s ranching operations probably would have been embroiled in the same controversy as the others. The house he built was substantial, which according to local lore, used a European “wattle and daub” technique, involving adobe-like dried mud and twigs between vertical posts, an ancient Irish technique. The actual construction under the current vinyl exterior siding may not have been verified; that could be a factor if the house were to be moved.
PATRICK CARROLL ARRIVES
In addition to the house, Carroll had a barn along the river. Surveyor William Owen recalled in 1892 that one of the biggest floods of the Big Laramie River in his memory occurred around 1872, when “the Big Laramie rose to such a height as to wash the base of Michael Carroll’s barn.”
Michael Carroll’s older brother, Patrick Carroll (1828-1899), also immigrated to America. He farmed near Leavenworth, Kansas, according to a Kansas Census of 1875. Sometime between 1875 and 1880 he moved to Laramie with his wife Bridget and their five children to a small house next door and south of 468 W. Kearney. On the 1885 map that house is marked “P. Carroll” and clearly fronts on Spruce St.
Two unmarried nephews, Martin and Jonas Carroll, also lived with Patrick and Bridget. All nine were listed on the Laramie 1880 U.S. Census. The two nephews and Patrick Carroll worked for the UPRR.
Around 1880, Michael Carroll and family moved to a homestead north of Laramie where he established another ranch. The house at 468 W. Kearney probably became a rental, and eventually Patrick Carroll is listed in Laramie City Directories as its resident.
Michael Carroll received a patent deed for 40 acres near “Wyoming,” Wyoming, a curiously named station stop about 14 miles north out of Laramie at Howell Rd on the Little Laramie River. His certificate to this property is dated March of 1889 — he had probably settled there much earlier.
DID HODGEMAN SWINDLE M. CARROLL?
But backing up a bit, 1875 was a year of great difficulty for Michael Carroll. The problems are evident in a Dec. 18, 1875 headline in a Cheyenne newspaper (the Wyoming Weekly Leader, page 8): “The Contested Land Case in Laramie City. How One of Our Citizens was Cheated Out of His Property.”
This refers to a dispute that Carroll had with Henry Hodgeman, who was also an early Laramie resident. He came to town in 1868 as part of a crew delivering a locomotive to the UPRR from Schenectady, New York. He decided to stay, and eventually noticed that the railroad had built on land that Carroll claimed, though Carroll himself had done nothing about it.
So Hodgeman filed a homestead application on land adjoining Carroll’s claim but which was also occupied at least partially by the UPRR. Neither his nor Carroll’s land claims had been surveyed but Hodgeman’s claim was put on the Albany County records in 1870. That was testimony presented when the dual claims of ownership became a petition issue before the U.S. General Land Office.
The Land Office report published in the Cheyenne Wyoming Leader newspaper of Dec. 18, 1875 is confusing, but reaffirms that Hodgeman’s claim was dated 1870 and that he got his patent deed to the property in 1875. The report also says that Hodgeman tried to assert his ownership of 73 acres of “his” land that the UPRR occupied, some of which actually belonged to Carroll.
The railroad disputed, but because Hodgeman had a patent deed, the company gave in and bought Hodgeman’s portion of the 73 acres. Then the railroad went after Carroll’s property by filing suit to obtain it.
There is no doubt that Carroll was here first, but the legality of his land claim to the southeastern quarter of Section 32, Township 16, Range 73 was the issue.
PLAYING 'TUG OF WAR' WITH A HOUSE
In late April of 1875, Carroll, already besieged by the UPRR, had another annoyance from Hodgeman. The latter moved a different house onto Carroll’s land, complete with its occupant.
Carroll hitched up four mules and moved the house back to Hodgeman’s land. The Laramie Daily Sun of May 1, 1875 says that the occupant involved was Laramie pioneer, Ira Pease, also in on the “swindle.” The paper reported that Pease had been installed in the house “with an arsenal strapped to his back.”
The result was a “To All Whom it May Concern” ad in the Laramie Sentinel on May 8, 1875, paid by Carroll, saying that the Land Office should recall the patent granted to Hodgeman because it was “obtained by misrepresentation, false-hood and fraud.”
The ad goes further to say: “All persons are hereby forbid purchasing any portion of the west half of the southeast quarter of section thirty two (32), township sixteen (16), range seventy-three (73) west, of the said H.D. Hodgeman, or any other person, by reason of the fraud aforesaid and by reason my right and title to the said land. [signed] Michael A. Carroll Laramie, Wyo., Ap’l 30, ’75.”
It would require some digging to learn is anything resulted from the December 1875 report of the General Land Office. But the director, S.S. Burdett , ordered that Michael Carroll’s petition to invalidate Hodgeman’s claim be reopened, and “when testimony has been all taken, the case will be referred to [U.S.] Attorney General Pierrepont, in order that he may bring an action in the name of the United States for the recision or forfeiture of Hodgeman’s patent.”
WHERE'S CARROLL'S LEGACY?
There is a new street named Carroll Avenue north of Curtis Street on the east side of Love’s Truck Stop. It is mostly vacant except for trucking businesses, though very appropriate for this former wagon master.
It is ironic that Carroll’s adversary, Henry Hodgeman, has a namesake street as well as a subdivision where the Old Carroll House sits. It could be debatable whether Hodgeman had the right to cause a plat map to be drawn up, much less to be adopted. Untangling the legal mess is a job for the lawyers. Maintaining the legacy of Michael Carroll is a job for local historians.