First in Sales – The Hays Store

    There is a popular misconception that Riverton was once named Wadsworth. It’s a fable often erroneously repeated about Fremont County’s largest city.

    Railroads had a practice of naming stops after local federal officials. In 1906, an agent on the Wind River Reservation named Wadsworth was the closest, so the stop was named after him.

    Just 10 days after the largest land expansion in Fremont County history, Franklin M. Gill filed incorporation papers for the new town and named it Riverton on August 25, 1906.

    That Chicago Northwestern Railroad was important to the progress of Riverton, which was named for the Wind River, the first river west of the Platte in Casper that had to be traversed on the way to Lander.

    Shoshoni during the 1906 land rush – h/t The University of Wyoming

    On August 15, 1906, an estimated 10,000 people gathered at Shoshoni to move into homesteads on a large section of the Wind River Reservation purchased and ceded by treaty for settlement.

    The prime areas for homesteading were along the tracks of the Chicago Northwestern or on the Wind River, Popo Agie, and their tributaries.

    Homesteads were clearly marked, but areas such as the future site of Riverton were wide open. The days of the “Old West” returned with guns being drawn, the sheriff called, and when lawlessness hit its peak, the Second US Cavalry from Ft. Brown (Ft. Washakie) was called to maintain order.

    Shoshoni 1906 as the railroad moved southwest into Riverton – h/t Riverton Review

    The first commercial building in Riverton began construction on the opening day of the land rush and has remained in operation ever since. Now the home of the Studio 402 Day Spa, it once held the Hays Mercantile, the largest general store in Fremont County.

    David Hays and his son Roy began clearing sagebrush off a corner lot that would eventually become the northeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and Broadway.

    A Hays Advertisement from 1916 – h/t Riverton Review

    Within a couple of months, the Hays Wholesale and Retail Merchandise Store, better known as simply the Hays Store was in operation.

    David Hays rode into Riverton from Shoshoni on a construction train. As the tracks continued southwest to Lander he and Roy began building the store on the newly cleared land.

    A Chicago Northwestern locomotive pulled into Moneta for water – h/t Pioneer Museum

    “The townsite was opened August 15, and we stake out the lots where the store is now located,” Hays said in a 1941 interview. “We started building as soon as the lumber was available and opened for business in October 1906.”

    The original store was a single-story building 24×44 feet. In 1910, they lengthened the store to 60 feet.

    The Hays Store 1916 – h/t Riverton Review

    In 1916, the father and son added a new portion adjacent to the original store, 25×90 feet, and increased the length of the original store to 104 feet.

    The familiar “eyeglass” façade was added in the 1916 remodel and is clearly evident today if you look left of the entrance as you enter the Studio 402 Day Spa.

    At the same time, the store was under construction, homes began to sprout up near it.

    Riverton is known as an agricultural area for alfalfa, cattle, beets, and corn. It also has a sporadic energy industry that has shifted from oil and gas to uranium and back again over the years. Initially, it was also considered a great area for apple orchards, potatoes, sheep, cattle, and small grains.

    A 1925 Christmas sale at Hays – h/t Riverton Review

    The abundant crab apple trees that fill the air with their delightful aroma and the eye with huge pink blossoms are a vestige of orchards that dotted the area. Crab apples bloom over a longer period than standard apples and the overlap allows bees to pollinate the larger apple trees with pollen from the crabs.

    The orchard use of crab apple trees gave way to more decorative use when a campaign was launched with free crab apple seedlings in 1962 and ’63 to spread the aromatic trees across Riverton. The effort was a lasting success in beautifying the then fast-growing energy town.

    Orchards never caught on in Riverton as they did in Lander and at the base of South Pass.

    A 1941 Hays Store full page ad – h/t Riverton Review

    One of the last orchards to be plowed under was at North Federal near the present location of Murdochs and the Riverton City Offices. It lasted until 1971.

    Hays was a pivotal player in the history of Riverton. The Hays Store offered everything from fine ladies’ dresses to hardware, groceries, and farm supplies.

    There was competition throughout Fremont County during the long operation of the store, with similar businesses in Riverton and thriving downtown business districts in Shoshoni, Hudson, and Lander.

    Roy Hays was a major player in Riverton business – h/t Riverton Review

    Stores in Pavillion, Dubois, Arapahoe, and Ft. Washakie offered similar competition as well as stores located at highway crossroads.

    Hays was iconic in the small, but growing town of Riverton.

    In the 1940s, local bakers, farmers, and small produce growers sold their wares at the store in impromptu farmer’s markets.

    Locally grown eggs and processed milk and cream were popular items, but baked goods did well on Saturday mornings at the Hays Store too.

    Jeanette and Nellie Gasser 1945 – h/t Jeanette Tucker

    Sisters Jeanette and Nellie Gasser would be dropped off at the store by their father Eugene with several dozen cream puffs made by their mother Clara. It became a bidding war between downtown merchants for those prized cream puffs, and the cigar-smoking barons of Riverton business would often arrive early, waiting for the little girls to get out of the car before buying the entire batch.

    Riverton 1939 – h/t Riverton Museum

    Hays was a department store in disguise, they offered everything from fresh produce to the latest Paris fashion for women. Ag supplies sat on shelves near dresses, and automobile fluids were stacked adjacent to clothing for children, and work clothes for men.

    David Hays was an excellent marketer, using the local Riverton Review each week to highlight sales and seasonal specials. He made special use of the holidays to have on hand and market the items that people sought during Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July.

    Life in Riverton was simpler in those days before the uranium rush of the 1950s and the large-scale mining operations in Gas Hills and Jeffrey City led to exponential growth in the town.

    David Hays retired, and his son Roy took over the business with his two sons, Albert and David.

    JM McDonald headquarters Humboldt, Nebraska – h/t JM McDonald

    Albert opened the Betty Ann Shop, on Main Street where Mike Zirbel’s investment office is now located.

    David retired soon after the Hays Store was closed and sold to J.M. McDonald.

    McDonald’s connections to Wyoming were deep and expansive.

    J.M. McDonald was one of James Cash Penney’s original partners when he opened the “Golden Rule Store” in Kemmerer in 1905.

    He quickly moved up Penney’s corporate ladder before judiciously retiring in 1929, just before the New York Stock Exchange crashed, starting the Great Depression.

    In 1934, McDonald bought out Brown-Ekberg in Holdrege, Nebraska, a failing clothing store. He expanded during the Depression with four more stores and moved his headquarters to Hastings, Nebraska.

    The J.M. McDonald Corporation purchased the Hays Store in 1968 under the management of a man named Tallent.

    David Peck riding on the running boards during a 1960s parade, the JM McDonald store is on his left – h/t Steve Peck

    Eventually, J.M. McDonald sold out to Gamble-Skagmo which opened several chain retail stores across the West and Midwest, including the familiar Gambles chain.

    In between the closing of McDonald’s and the arrival of the Studio 402 Day Spa and Meadowlark Books, several businesses tried their hand at the location.

    The original store, the additions and renovations remain an icon in present-day Riverton and a link to its past.

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