Change arrived quickly on the Wind River Reservation in 1906. The 1905 Agreement between the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes and the United States Government sold 1.5 million acres of land north of the Wind River and opened the area for homesteading.
By the spring of 1906, over 10,000 people waited for the official opening of the new district in Shoshoni. New towns sprang up overnight in Riverton, Hudson, and Pavillion as the Chicago Northwestern Railroad reached Lander with plans to expand.
Soon after, speculation was that the newly formed townsite at Pavillion, on land owned by Jesse Lee Mote, would become the largest community in Fremont County, but journalists from the time warned that problems with groundwater in the area would limit growth.
In the end, Riverton won out as the county’s largest city, the railroad never went west to Pavillion and then on to Dubois as was hoped, and Fremont County as we know it, gradually evolved.
In 1896, years before the tribes entered negotiations to sell land, Chief Washakie’s son Jim Washakie was shot off his horse near the then unnamed butte northwest of Pavillion. He was taken to Napolean Bonaparte Kinnear’s ranch on the Wind River southwest of the little town that bears his name and Washakie died there. The butte was then called Dead Indian Butte.
In 1908, after the 1906 land rush from Shoshoni, surveyors and geologists thought the butte resembled a Pavilion. It was renamed Pavilion Butte, and the area around was unofficially called Pavilion.
In 1906, the Mote Ranch was known as the Pavilion City Ranch. They had a few lucrative early years growing dryland potatoes.
In 1908, the town’s name was inadvertently changed to Pavillion after a surveyor misspelled Pavilion on a legal document. The name stuck.
Plans for a rail line from Riverton never happened, but a road was built connecting the two towns. Columnists in the Riverton Republican newspaper continued to ask the question of whether Riverton or Pavillion would be the larger city, the lack of a railroad answered that question.
One of the biggest scandals in Fremont County history came with the arrival of the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company. The company was contracted to build canals from the upper Wind River to farmland in the central portion of the county. Graft, bribery, and the questionable involvement of many of Wyoming’s highest elected officials left the project unfinished and a later project came in to complete it.
The irrigation project was closely tied to Pavillions’ expansion. They built the Wyoming Canal, presently part of the Midvale Irrigation District, but brought many more complaints and legal action before others eventually completed the canal system in the 1920s.
The project brought workers and customers to Pavillion’s carefully platted townsite.
The first store lasted just four years, a confectionary and general store owned by Mrs. Mote from 1908 to 1912. Candy was big business in the early 20th century and Mrs. Mote offered dry goods and a huge selection of candy in carefully arranged jars along a countertop.
The building took on a new role as the Pavillion Community Hall for the next dozen years and then became the office for the Pavillion Press, the town’s first newspaper. The Press opened on October 24, 1924, and lasted four years, before the Fremont County Independent began production in 1928.
Stores and other businesses began popping up like mushrooms after an early summer shower.
Hotels, restaurants, gas stations, hardware stores, general merchandise stores, grocery stores, and even a movie theatre had the little town prospering beyond expectations.
In 1909, the Townsite Store opened on Main Street and Center Avenue. Harrison and Hester built it, and then a change of partnership had Hester selling his half to Fisher.
The store was sold to Milton Durrill in 1913 and eventually became the Pavillion General Store, managed by Tom Burns until 1925. The store was purchased by Al Keys, who operated the Pavillion Commercial Store briefly in 1925 before a fire destroyed it on February 8, 1926.
There were a lot of fires that ended business in the first half of the 20th century around Fremont County and Wyoming as a whole. These were almost always associated with a faulty white gas stove.
There was plenty of competition in pre-depression Pavillion when it came to stores. The expanding farming population, often with large families, created a demand for dry goods, produce, and meat that was met by enterprising business owners.
A furniture store arrived in 1924, combined with general merchandise. The Benson Coolidge Furniture and Hardware Store had unique offerings for such a small town but burned in February 1926. A. M. Trego, an enterprising man with a lot of businesses remodeled the building in 1927, opening Trego’s Hardware, managed by Tom Ross.
Al Keys opened a store at Main and Cedar, calling it Keys Cash Store in 1928.
From 1924 to 1929, A. W. Friday’s General Store offered just those products, along with hardware and mechanical parts. It closed in Paril 1929, converting to a private home.
One of the earliest franchises in Fremont County came with the arrival of the Golden Rule Store, owned by Akins and Company, and managed by Ed Ryan. Another Golden Rule store lasted into the 1960s in nearby Shoshoni.
Stanley Bloom took over management in 1925, and the Golden Rule closed in 1928. It was one of the first clothing stores in the area. The store was purchased by Nyle Pickinpaugh in 1934, and he moved it from Pavillion to his farm.
The Rex Theater and Dance Hall was built by Mr. and Mrs. Mote in 1924. It promised a dance every Saturday night during warm weather and offered silent films, accompanied by piano in the theater.
1925 saw the arrival of the Pavillion Mercantile Company and a year later the Rex Confectionary and Drug Store.
Two theaters in one small town was a stretch but from March to November 1928, the Lloyd Theater and Confectionary competed with the Rex.
The Armstrong Café opened in 1929, one of the final businesses of the heyday of Pavillion expansion before the stock market crash in October of that year.
Three long-running stores opened amidst the economic turmoil of the Great Depression.
In 1931, A.M. Trego managed the Pavillion Cash Store. The business faltered, but Trego bought the building and reopened the store in 1935.
The Pavillion Trading Company Grocery had a brief business beginning in 1936. Built by George Willcocks, it was one of the many businesses managed and operated by Tom Ross. In July 1936, they moved their inventory to Riverton. In December, Walter Coates and Rufus Vermillion opened a gas station on the property, but it burned down in 1937.
In June 1937, one of the principal individuals in Pavillions’ history arrived in Paul Herder. Herder opened Herder’s Hall and Herder’s Cash Store, with gas pumps located outside. In 1942 business was great, he closed the dance hall and expanded the store.
Herder went on to become mayor of Pavillion and operated the store until 1960, when he retired. During his 23 years of operation, he had a close relationship with Bolly Shuttlesworth at the Missouri Valley Store, sharing shipments and often augmenting each other’s inventory as needed.
In 1938, Eldon and Irene Jones opened the Basketeria, the most venerable business in Pavillion and one that will have its own story told separately.
In 1940, the Pavillion Hardware and Grocery opened across the street from the Basketeria. In September 1959, Barbara and Ed Wempen purchased the store and opened “Barb’s Rendezvous.” It had a Conoco station and garage, along with a pool table, jukebox, snack bar, and pizza oven that did business until the mid-1970s.
No town could exist without offering cold storage lockers, and Pavillion was no exception. Soon after the arrival of electricity, Morgan’s Frozen Food Lockers opened in 1946. The business lasted until 1969, when refrigerators and home freezers eliminated the need for a central cold storage facility.
The term “Pool Hall” was synonymous with the older name, saloon, and Pavillion had a couple in the early years, though they were hampered by the almost 15 years of prohibition from early 1919 to December 1933.
The Pavillion Pool Hall was built on Center Avenue in 1924 by Slater and Calterwood. The Pool Hall had a long series of owners. Legend has it that the prohibition laws weren’t enforced well in Pavillion during the 1920s and 30s.
In 1972, James Rutter purchased the building and opened the familiar Pavillion bar, Rutter’s Roost.
The Boyd Pool Hall on Center Street opened the following year in 1925. It also had a series of owners, with name changes to the business and a rumored reputation as another “speakeasy” of the period. In 1935, it officially became the Trego Pool Hall and Beer Parlor, another successful business by A.M. Trego. In 1941, a small bowling alley was built adjacent to it, but it was sold as a residence and moved by Amos Olheiser.
All these businesses thrived on the surrounding small farms and ranches, and most of them had large families.
Pioneer communities always started with a general store, followed by bars and churches, but a school was the first community-wide venture almost every time. The first Pavillion School was a single-room log house built in 1909 on the west side of Main Street, behind the present Post Office and Basketeria.
The building was leveled in 1934, but the Pavillion School District kept the property and later built several teacherages for staff members that lasted into the 1970s.
As the community expanded, so did the size of the school. In 1925, the White School House, as it was known, was built on the present site of the Wind River Elementary School. It was moved to Shoshoni in 1940 and used by the Veterans of Foreign Wars but burned down in August 1969.
The first permanent school building came with a brick structure completed in 1940. This building served as the origination point for four additional bond issues that added a new gym and high school in 1948, with an ag shop. The ag shop was expanded in 1950, and additional rooms were added in 1955.
The final bond issue came in 1968 with the addition of a new cafeteria and classroom wing north of the school.
In 1993, Wind River High School was built east of this school, and a few years later, the old school was demolished, and the modern Wind River Elementary was built on the land.
Change was the one constant in Pavillion over the first century of its existence and nothing epitomizes the rapid advance of technology in the 20th century than the Barn and Livery Stable.
In 1909, the Townsite Company, owned by Morris McMillan, built the wooden barn and stables to feed and house the horses of travelers to Pavillion.
A livery stable was a vestige of the Old West and was soon outdated. It was converted into a garage for the Pavillion Transfer Company, a trucking business in 1930, and eventually became a blacksmith and machine shop run by Ed Berger.
The Pavillion American Legion Post moved into it in 1947, but it burned down in 1958.
The remnants of all these businesses and the people who owned, operated, and shopped at them are still easy to see in present-day Pavillion. Many have been repurposed, and many more are just bits of concrete foundations in backyards and empty lots in the small town.
Pavillion once had a population of over 2,000 people but was listed as 231 people in the 2020 census.
Pavillion has a vibrant history and moves forward as the smallest of the five incorporated towns in Fremont County.