Elk Mountain Museum
The Garden Spot Pavilion
The Garden Spot Pavilion - The Town of Elk Mountain's claim to fame. The building that housed the Garden Spot Pavilion was originally constructed in 1880 to serve as a livery stable for travelers coming along the Overland Trail. In 1905 J.S. Evans built the Grand View Hotel in the same field as the livery stable. The Grand View Hotel still stands today and operates as the Historic Elk Mountain Hotel. In 1920 Mr. Evans and his sons significantly upgraded the old livery stable by adding on a large dance floor and stage area and converting the original building area into ticket sales, a ladies restroom and a small area to serve food. The dance floor was oak flooring laid over widely spaced pine log moorings encased in concrete. Although unanticipated, the happy result was a delightfully bouncy dance floor. It was rumored for decades that it was constructed with railroad boxcar springs which gave it the bounce. It was often said "If you can't dance, just jump on and ride!" One story is told of a young man who was deaf, but still asked the ladies to dance because he could feel the tempo of the song playing by the rhythm of the bouncing floor. The legend of the springs under the dance floor was debunked when the Dance Hall was torn down decades later, but how it remained so bouncy without cracking remains a mystery.
In 1945, Hanna resident Mark Jackson purchased the Hotel, the Dance Hall and the nearby Saloon. Mark had a local band and played for small gatherings around the county, so the dance hall was a good fit. The coal mines were busy in Hanna providing coal for the Union Pacific Railroad and at the time, Hanna had about 3,000 citizens. The Garden Spot Pavilion provided a place to gather and socialize for Elk Mountain residents, local ranchers and others willing to travel some distance to get here.
Up until the 1970's, the main route through this part of Wyoming was Highway 30. Many of the big bands were booking shows in Denver and Salt Lake as their popularity was spreading to the west. Mark Jackson realized that many of the big bands were traveling by bus along Highway 30 between Denver and Salt Lake. He took a chance and paid many of them to detour 15 miles south from Hanna into Elk Mountain to play for eager crowds here. It worked out to benefit everyone. The locals had a great night's entertainment, the Dance Hall was full, the hotel and saloon were busy and the Big Bands got to play their music to enthusiastic crowds as they traveled to their next show.
The Garden Spot Pavilion hosted big name bands such as Louis Armstrong, Lawrence Welk, Hank Thompson, Jim Reeves, Tommy Dorsey and many more. The dance floor was famous in these parts and people traveled considerable distances to take a ride on the springy dance floor. From 1948 to 1958 The Garden Spot hosted Big Bands with the largest crowd being 781 people to see Hank Thompson perform on July 20, 1957. The second largest crowd was 659 people to see Harry James perform on September 16, 1950, with similarly sized audiences throughout that decade.
It was during this time (waiting for the dates that your parents managed the hotel) that Mark Jackson hired Barney and Saima Bailey to come from the company town of Hanna and manage the hotel and dance hall. Barney had been a coal miner his whole life, starting work in the coal mines as a 12 year old to help support his family when his father was killed in a mining accident. Their son, RV Bailey, a retired geologist now living in Casper, remembers fondly the "big band days". He would come back to Elk Mountain from The University in Laramie to cook hamburgers for the big events. His mother Saima was known for her good cooking and was an excellent host to the big bands that came to play in Elk Mountain. Saima made posters for the events and would try to post them in the grocery stores in Rawlins and Laramie to get the word out for the performances. One funny memory from Saima happened while Lawrence Welk was performing. She was short and couldn't see, so she stood up on a box to get a better view of the performance, but the box collapsed under her. The box turned out to be Lawrence Welk's accordion case!
With the saloon just across the road, alcohol fueled the party and on occasion, some people would get out of line. One night, one of the dancers became drunk and unruly. In an effort to regain control of this individual, the deputy foolishly pulled out his pistol and brought it down on the drunk man's head to get his attention. Unfortunately, the gun discharged and an innocent man, who was there with his wife, was shot and killed on the dance floor. He was well-known in the area and well-liked. There was talk of revenge on the deputy, but it was decided the whole thing was just a tragic accident and he resigned and left town shortly after the incident.
Following the end of WWII in 1945, there existed an aggressive attitude in the young men returning from service. In addition, there were frustrated young men who had anticipated serving in the war, but were not able to because the war ended before they were old enough to serve. As a result, there were 'tuffies' attending most dances and sometimes they would just pick someone out that they didn't like the looks of and start a fight. One Saturday night, they picked on a young man who was there with his wife from back east, but the young man turned out to be a trained fighter and the 'tuffies' quit the fight saying "We picked the wrong one this time!" On a different occasion, the 'tuffies' wanted to see if they could flip a car over, so they gathered out in the gravel parking lot, chose a random car and flipped it over.
There are other stories of course about saloon patrons riding their horse into the bar so their horse could get a beer. Everyone laughed, but the horse and rider were quickly shown the door. There is a story of a rancher from a ranch at the foot of Elk Mountain about 8 miles away who came down to enjoy the festivities and after a night of too much drinking headed for home in the throws of a Wyoming blizzard. Not being able to see, and being almost too drunk to ride his horse, he nevertheless wanted to go home. So he turned the navigating over to his horse. Every time the horse stopped, the man got off, felt for the gate he couldn't see in the storm, opened the gate and led the horse through then closed the gate behind him and crawled back on his horse. After passing through several gates, the horse stopped right in front of the barn and the inebriated rancher was home. The horse may have saved this rancher's life.
In 1954, Union Pacific Railroad made the decision to convert their engines from coal powered steam engines to diesel electric engines. Almost overnight, many miners were unemployed and many left the company town of Hanna. A surface mine remained open and surface mining took place for several more years. Around that same time, television became more readily available in people's homes and The Garden Spot Pavilion saw a steady decline in patronage. The 60's and 70's saw many bands perform on the stage, including Merle Haggard, but certainly not the same crowds as in the Big Band days. Wyoming folks never did take to rock and roll quite the same as the big band music. The Garden Spot Pavilion hosted many town parties, local weddings and other gatherings. In the 80's the hotel, dance pavilion and saloon were sold and in the late 90's it was determined that the Famous Garden Spot Pavilion was in too much disrepair to save and was torn down along with the saloon. The hotel was restored to its former glory but an important piece of Elk Mountain and Wyoming history slipped quietly into memory.
Elk Mountain is a quiet, unassuming small Wyoming town with a population of less than 200 people. It is hard to imagine a party such as one of the Big Bands playing to a crowd of more than 700 people right here. Nevertheless, the bands and the crowds were all here and if you get a chance to talk to anyone that was there, they usually get a big smile and love to share their story of how it was back in the day.
Here at the Elk Mountain Museum, we have many wonderful pieces of memorabilia from the Garden Spot Pavilion. We hope you will come on by and stroll down memory lane with us as we remember the pavilion's glory days.