Hotel Tomahawk

By Gregory R.C. Hasman

May 25, 2016

Cars and pick-up trucks bypass the Hotel Tomahawk in Green River like it was just another piece of real estate, but for nearly 60 years Lincoln Highway and Wyoming motorists stayed there as they traveled to their destinations.

Dr. J.W. Hawk was a district surgeon for the Union Pacific. When he and his wife Charlotte came to Green River, “it was with the intent of making this city their future home,” the Green River Star reported on Feb. 25, 1921. After building a drug store and erecting new business buildings, he and Sweetwater County ranchers Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Welch decided to construct a hotel. They called it the Tomahawk in honor of Mr. Hawk and Mr. Welch.

The Hotel Tomahawk in 1940. Photo credit: Sweetwater County Historical Museum

The May 14, 1921 edition of Hotel World: The Hotel and Travelers Journal spoke of the growing community surrounding the new hotel:

“While it may seem somewhat large for the city, Green River has a good country back of it, and with the advent of several large new industrial plants, now being planned, there will be plenty of business for the motel.”

Being surrounded by new industrial plants and businesses was the ideal landscape for the new roadside business. 

It was the first hotel built in Green River to look straight at the Lincoln Highway, on a corner where the highway turned south to cross the railroad, and was one of the first highway-related buildings to be built in the community. It had about 75 rooms, half of which featured a tub and shower bath, while all rooms contained hot and cold running water and phones. 

The first floor of the building included six separate storefronts which featured different businesses like the Automobile Association of America, the Tomahawk Pharmacy, which also featured a soda fountain, the State Bank of Green River and JC Penney’s. 

The pharmacy ran until 1967 before becoming a law office, frame shop and photo store. J.C. Penney’s opened in 1933 and closed in 1958 before becoming Phelps Quality Meat Market for two years and Romig’s Department Store. Another part of the J.C. Penney store was reconstructed in 1939 when it became Johnson Variety Store and before a fire in September 1940, the basement held Petre’s Pool Hall and a bowling alley. Today, the stores are occupied by the Boy Scouts, Wayne's Barber Shop, the Paw Spa, Dance Unlimited Dance Company, and an attorney's office. 

The Heart of Town

The hotel, according to newspaper accounts, was a majestic place along the Lincoln Highway.
The May 6, 1921 Green River Star offered readers a glimpse into opening night, which took place four days later.

“This is an event which means much to the town of Green River as the new Hotel Tomahawk is one of the finest hotel establishments in the west, and is furnished second to none. The ground floor aside from the lobby is occupied by live wires in the business life of the town who have attractive establishments that add much to the general appearance of the hotel block, while just east of the hotel is located the modern Sweetwater Auto Co. Garage, where the auto tourist can receive every need for the gasoline driven vehicles used by the overland tourist of today.”

Ivan Edelman remembers staying with his parents.

“Over 60 years ago my parents and I stayed at the Tomahawk Hotel. It is right next to the train yards and was host to railroad workers on layover,” he said. “We could hear the trains all night. Green River is a major rail yard, and when we were there the locomotives were steam. Those are sounds I’ll never forget — or ever hear in person again.”

The hotel closed in 1980 and was remodeled into business offices in 1982, but it still stands as a reminder of a by-gone era in Wyoming and roadside history.

 

A special thanks to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River for their help with research.

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