It’s a strike! More than a century of bowling in the Gem City | Local News
Nine-pin bowling, now with 10 pins, originated in Europe and has been popular in America for over 200 years.
Tall, slender candlesticks and short, stocky ducks are varieties that may have originated in Canada. They are still found in the back streets of New England.
But it was the bottle-shaped 10-prong variety that became most popular in America – although at first only in bars and pool halls.
The dent-resistant maple wood was ideal for indoor fairways, although in Europe the game may have been created for playing outdoors on grass.
Raucous bets among inebriated patrons meant the places weren’t for women.
Laramie’s first bowling alley was in the Theater Saloon rented by Charles Kuster on First Street. For a few months in 1870, he advertised: “Two good ten-pin alleys, free for bar patrons.”
The alleys of Kuster were probably reserved for men. Women might be able to use Laramie’s next bowling alley mentioned in the diary, established by Fred Bath in 1873 at “Summer Garden” near his brewery, although the exact location was not given.
“The most perfect order will be maintained”, reported the Sentinel newspaper on July 2, 1873, an indication that perhaps alcohol would not be served in the lanes of Bath.
In 1874, the Laramie City Council began requiring licenses, charging $5 per quarter for each lane, pool table, or pool table. The owners were fined $50 for anyone under 15 present, but only assessed if a parent complained.
Sol Enfield advertised his Laramie Bowling Alley on 2nd Street throughout 1875 and early 1876. He also offered beer, wine, liquors, and cigars. His establishment became a hardware store in August 1876, as announced on August 16, 1876 in the Sentinel.
“The ladies will have an opportunity to become adept in these wholesome exercises,” the Sentinel said in 1878, reporting on a Cheyenne establishment that planned to serve coffee only.
In 1891, Bill Nye’s syndicated column in his old newspaper, the Boomerang, reported on a prank Nye played when he first tried bowling. His hosts put a string in front of the pins to deflect his ball. However, their trick didn’t work because “none of my balls ever hit the rope,” Nye wrote.
After Enfield’s Laramie Bowling Alley closed in 1876, there were likely other alleys in Laramie associated with bars for the next 25 years, but they did not advertise, so their locations are unknown. Most would have been in Laramie’s many pool halls. One was at an employment agency in Laramie, where men passed the time while waiting for temporary work.
However, in 1902, Paul Bath, 30-year-old son of pioneer Fred Bath, opened a new bowling alley, probably in the basement of his bar and billiard room on South 2nd Street. It may have been separate from the bar, as women started going there for sports.
Bath-sponsored teams and newspapers began reporting Laramie’s team results in other cities. In 1915, there were 38 bowlers listed in the Men’s Bowling League, possibly hosted by Bath or the recently opened Brunswick Billiard Lounge at 314 S. 2nd St., where the Quilt Essentials shop is located today.
In 1919, the Boomerang advertised wanted pin boys in Brunswick Bowling Alley. Brunswick, an Ohio company, began manufacturing pool and billiard tables in the 1840s.
Brunswick branched out into bowling equipment in the 1880s. This lane continued in Laramie for at least 30 years until 1949. Its owner in the 1920s was Charles Rauner, and in 1937 the managers were Harry Small and William Ames.
The City of Laramie Directory for 1926 lists seven billiard halls, possibly with a bowling alley. In addition to Brunswick, there were: Albert Erickson’s at 520 S. 2nd; Everybody’s Club with AS Hall, owner, at 907 S. 1st; Laramie (or Wyoming) Pool Hall at 217 S. First St.; Mecca at 117 Thornburgh (later Ivinson Ave.); Hobby at 213 S. First St.; and Reliable Employment Agency, WM Yost, owner, at 109 Grand Ave. Added in 1928 were the Headquarters Pool Room at 215 S. First St. and the Rex Pool Lounge at 121 Ivinson Ave.
In 1926, Elmer Lovejoy, famous for promoting bicycles and for building Laramie’s first automobile, converted his old bicycle repair shop into “Lovejoy Novelty Works” at 408 S. 2nd St. In 1937, he changed the name into Mapleway Amusement Co., which eventually expanded to 410 and 414 S. 2nd St. when owned by partners Elmer Lovejoy and Gary F. Braisted.
Mapleway had a ballroom upstairs and a cafe downstairs run by Bernard Nelson and a bowling alley. Mapleway continued for the next 20 years at this location.
Before the advent of automatic machines in the 1950s, young children were hired as pinsetters. Two Laramie residents, Germaine (Jezewski) St. John and Rusty Jairell, have recently reflected on their work at Mapleway from the late 1940s.
St. John remembers being hit by flying pins when a particularly energetic bowler took a turn and how fast she had to jump onto the provided bench while trying to stay clear of the balls.
“You didn’t want to get hit with one of them,” she recalled.
Jairell remembers the satisfying sound of hard balls hitting wooden pins. On one occasion, he dropped a bowling ball on the hard floor and it broke. He never admitted to the accident when the manager came to investigate a ball that never returned.
Elmer Lovejoy moved to California around 1950 and management of Mapleway passed to Frank E. Rocchio. From 1956 to 1959 it became Lee’s Mapleway Bowling remaining at 414 S. 2nd, operated by Liberato Jaramillo. But that was the end of Mapleway, with the opening of a new modern bowling alley.
It was Laramie Lanes, first listed in the 1958 city directory, at 1270 N. 3rd St., where it still stands. Breeder Pete Burns owned it. It advertised automatic bowling, free parking, league matches, prizes and a snack bar. Alcohol was not mentioned.
Bowling boomed in the 1950s through the 1980s. National tournaments were televised and an association of professional bowlers was formed. Over 3 million bowlers belonged to bowling associations. Men’s, women’s and couples’ leagues formed, usually with matching shirts – members often bought their own shoes and balls.
The University of Wyoming had a bowling alley in the Student Union. Jairell recalls that some of Laramie’s men’s fraternal organizations also had alleys.
Laramie Lanes competitors grew as others capitalized on the popularity of bowling. Lucky Strike Bowl was listed in the 1949 city directory. Keith D. Bullock was manager, at 1152 N. 3rd St. It may not have lasted more than a few years.
Then The Bowl opened in 1963 at 2130 Garfield St., with Tom Bennett as manager. He advertised a crib and air conditioning.
But by 1971 the building had become Pioneer Wholesale Foods, and now it’s the First Christian Church.
Another was Pinnacle Bowl, which opened around 1978. It was at 725 Skyline Road with Dorothy and James Mason as owners. It advertised 20 lanes and the Mexican restaurant El Vaquero. Its name changed in 1988 to Summit Bowl, but closed in 1991. The building became the Western Flea Market.
In 1983 Laramie Lanes became Laramie Lanes Lounge & Liquors with Ed and Shell Burns as owners. At that time, having alcohol available in a bowling alley was no longer an obstacle for women, a far cry from the beginnings of bowling in America.
Interest in bowling waned in the 1990s as many people viewed bowling as a recreational activity rather than a sport. Some predict a surge in interest, as bowling alleys are still a popular destination for date nights and wholesome family entertainment.
At Laramie Lanes, leagues and expert instruction are available for those who want to improve their technique in the sport.
Judy Knight is a collection manager at the Laramie Plains Museum. A storybook from this historical series is available at the Laramie Plains Museum’s Carriage House Gift Shop at 603 Ivinson and at the Wyoming Women’s History House at 317 S. 2nd St. Titled “Territorial Days on the Laramie Plains,” the 250-page paperback book covers the pioneer days until around 1890, when Wyoming Territory became a state.