When you first glimpse this 60-foot pyramid— a memorial to Oakes and Oliver Ames who greatly contributed to the construction of the first transcontinental railroad— you might wonder what it’s doing way out “in the middle of nowhere.” Although it’s located down a dirt side road off Interstate 80, it’s actually only 40 miles outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming and easily accessible. According to the informative signs here, the Union Pacific Railroad Company purposely chose this site because it stands on the highest elevation (8,247 feet) of the original transcontinental route. Completed in 1882 at a cost of $65,000, it’s worth a stop to see this granite monolith.
The Ames brothers were from Massachusetts, and it was their wealth, influence, talent, and support that helped complete the Union Pacific section of the railroad. Oakes, the eldest brother, was a businessman and member of the House of Representatives. He believed strongly in President Abraham Lincoln’s vision that constructing the transcontinental railroad was vital to the nation’s future. Lincoln trusted Oakes to get the job done and he did just that. Oliver inherited their father’s shovel manufacturing company and made the family quite wealthy when the California Gold Rush, Civil War, and expansion of the railroads created a high demand for high quality shovels. Since he was known to be a meticulous bookkeeper and manager, Oliver served as president of the Union Pacific during construction of the transcontinental railroad.
Sparing no expense or effort, Union Pacific hired the most distinguished architect of the time, Henry Hobson Richardson, to design the Ames Monument. The architect’s appreciation for native materials is evident in the massive rough-hewn granite blocks that were quarried one-half mile west. The bas-relief medallions of the Ames brothers were done by the prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This is the same sculptor known for his design of the $20 Double Eagle Gold coin. During the two-year construction project, 85 workers and the building superintendent lived on-site. Horses were used to skid the mammoth stones, which weigh about 20 tons each, from the quarry. Wooden cranes were used to hoist them into place.
Few things symbolize America’s expansion like the railroad, and this monument honors two brothers who helped ensure the iron horses brought people and progress westward.
IF YOU GO:
Ames Monument Historic Site
Approximately 40 miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming off I-80
FREE; park grounds open 24 hours year round, weather permitting.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com