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Old hotel marks 120 years

Jan 20, 2014 - Han Cheung, For the Associated Press

SARATOGA -- When future Wyoming Governor Fenimore Chatterton returned to Rawlins from a business trip in Saratoga in Nov. 1893, he reported that the Hotel Wolf was nearing completion.

"It is the finest structure in Carbon County," he told the Rawlins Republican.

The hotel officially opened on Jan. 10, 1893. Current owners Doug and Kathleen Campbell recently hosted a gala celebration to celebrate the hotel's 120th anniversary.

According to the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel's namesake, Frederick G. Wolf, migrated from Germany to America in 1869. He eventually found his way to Rawlins, where he was hired as a foreman for the Union Pacific.

"Suffering from rheumatism, Wolf went to Saratoga in 1887 seeking relief for his illness at the hot springs," NRHP recorded. "There he became involved in establishing the Wolf Hotel."

According to Doug Campbell, the structure was built for $6,000 using soft brick. "It wasn't fired," he said. "It was just brick that was manufactured locally." He compares it against the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee built the same year, which cost $25,000.

The hotel quickly became a popular resting spot for people traveling between the Grand Encampment mines and Walcott Junction on the Union Pacific main line. "It was a working man's place," Campbell said. It also appeared to be the place to have supper after most town functions.

On Feb. 1, 1895, about half the population of Saratoga "invaded" the hotel and decided to have a surprise party. "Mr. and Mrs. Wolf soon recovered from their astonishment and did everything to make the evening pleasant for their unexpected guests," the Rawlins Republican reported.

The hotel earned an endorsement in an article about Saratoga in the Rawlins Republican in 1899: "'Is there a good hotel in town?' is one of the first questions a stranger will ask on reaching a town. Answering this question on behalf of Saratoga, we say, 'yes.'"

The article described the hotel as a first-class house with great service and food and called Wolf a "thorough hotel man." The same year, Wolf built a 26 by 70 feet extension to the building.

Wolf died in 1910 and George "Baldy" Sisson leased the hotel from Mrs. Wolf, who shortly after moved to Denver, according to newspaper records.

According to the Carbon County Journal, Sisson sent out "handsome" postcards advertising Saratoga as "the fisherman's paradise" shortly after taking over.

Under Sisson, the hotel stayed lively. Mrs. Sisson would entertain guests at cards on Friday evenings while food was served and live music played in the background. On June 1, 1916, the Rawlins Republican reported that more than 100 people ate dinner at the Wolf the previous day.

It held the Saratoga Valley Stock Grower's Association's annual banquet in 1917, which the Carbon County Journal called "one of the biggest and most enjoyable meeting ever held in this county."

Judging from advertising records, Sisson renamed the business "Hotel Sisson" sometime in 1920. It was still called that as late as 1934, according to an article in the Encampment Echo.

The hotel had regained its original name by the time the Campbells purchased it in 1977. Doug Campbell, a Kemmerer native, had moved to California for work after he graduated from the University of Wyoming with an engineering degree.

Campbell had a business partner that passed through Saratoga in 1976 and noticed the hotel was for sale. "I still had family in Kemmerer and Cheyenne," Campbell said. He decided to purchase the hotel with his partner and move his wife and four children to Saratoga.

Campbell decided to add a restaurant in 1978, and he moved the bar back to the original barroom and turned the vacated space into a dining room.

Campbell also did quite a bit of historical preservation on the structure, including taking harmful paint off the exterior brick.

On Jan. 26, 1989, a fire broke out in the hotel that, according to the Rawlins Daily Times archive, damaged the structure and roof of the east wing. Campbell said after the fire they consolidated and remodeled the remaining rooms to the 10 they now have today.

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