By Luke Anderson
March 23, 2016
The Alliance for Historic Wyoming is extremely saddened to learn of the loss of the Shoshone Episcopal Mission School to fire early last Thursday morning. The Alliance visited the mission and toured the school in last July. We experienced the welcoming hospitality of the Episcopal Mission and were allowed to go inside the old school. Although in minor disrepair, the school retained a high level of historical integrity and the mission was interested in having the building possibly restored to its former glory.
Reverend John Roberts, a Welsh immigrant, founded the Shoshone Episcopal Mission Boarding School on the Wind River Reservation in 1887. Roberts had previously been the superintendent of the Wind River Industrial School, a federally funded school that was built three year earlier. Having been a missionary in the Wind River area for an extended period of time already, Roberts established his own school in the name of the Episcopal Church. Renowned Shoshone leader Chief Washakie donated the land to Roberts for the school. The building was completed in 1890, and served the community until 1945. Gwen Roberts, a daughter of Reverend John Roberts, then lived in the school until 1960 when it was converted to a parish center for the mission.
The school was a two-story Georgian-style red-brick building with a sandstone foundation. The main entrance on the east facade had a semicircular-arched opening flanked by paneled brick pilasters. A hip-roofed, screened-in frame porch was added around the year 1900. Windows in the four side bays featured double-hung sash with brick segmental-arch lintels and sandstone sills, while the central second floor window consisted of two round-arch windows set within in a rounded-arch opening. The building was topped by a hipped roof covered with metal, with a boxed cornice and eave. Interior end chimneys with decorative brick paneling and corbelling rose from the center of each side wall of the original structure.
Soon after the school was finished in 1890, additions were built onto the back of the building. A one-story brick kitchen was added around 1895, and five years later, the girls' dining room was added behind the kitchen. The girls' dining room connected the formerly free-standing laundry with the main building. Another school room of brick and sandstone was added behind the girls' dining room in 1930, bringing the ell to its final length of 71 feet. Another dormitory room was added above the kitchen at the same time.
The building functioned not only as a school and boarding facility, but also as the home of Roberts and his wife. A large dining hall and classroom were on the north side of the central hall. Two smaller rooms were situated on the south side for the Roberts family. Upstairs, the Roberts family and mission employees occupied two bedrooms on the south side of the hall, while the students lived in a dormitory room on the north side.
The Shoshone Episcopal Mission School was significant in several ways. It was the first Episcopal mission school for girls established in what was then the Wyoming Territory. The mission has been operating since the 1880s, making the historical context for the site well over a century old. The school's association with two prominent individuals in Wyoming history - John Roberts and Chief Washakie - also makes the site significant. However, these are only a few of many reasons why the Shoshone Episcopal Mission School was and is still important. Looking in from the outside, we at the Alliance for Historic Wyoming can only say so much about why the school is important in Wyoming history. We can never fully understand the importance of a place to the people whose families helped build and lived around for generations. Ultimately, it's people that make historic places important, and the enduring use of people over time adds so much truly unique character to a place. Only those who were close to the mission - whether from the Roberts family, students who went to the school, or members of the parish today - really know how important the site is, and fellow preservationists around the state will empathize and help mourn with the Shoshone Episcopal Mission that just endured a heartbreaking loss to their history.
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