Fossil Country Frontier Museum to celebrate 30 years

GAZETTE PHOTO / Theresa Davis

The Fossil Country Frontier Museum has hundreds of artifacts from Kemmerer and Diamondville, including this sign that once adorned the historic Kemmerer Hotel. Museum board president Teri Picerno says the museum has a big responsibility to tell the story of the community.

It's a big building, but it can be easy for locals to overlook the Fossil Country Frontier Museum in Kemmerer.

The museum, which used to house the LDS church, opened in 1989, and will celebrate its 30th anniversary later this year.

The museum reflects the eclectic history of the community. The old church pews still reside in what was once a chapel, but it’s in the exhibit gallery where locals can really travel through time.

There are items from Garth Nicholls’ old barbershop and signs from the beloved, but now demolished, Kemmerer Hotel. Other exhibits showcase artifacts from the original J.C. Penney store, class photos from Kemmerer High, and even a crocodile fossil.

Teri Picerno, president of the museum board, said the museum plays a big role in preserving local history.

“We’re not telling the history of the museum,” Picerno said. “It’s our job to tell the history of the community, and this is a central place to keep a record and add to the legacy. These are things that the world needs to know about.”

Kemmerer and Diamondville are rich with history. The coal mining industry goes back more than 120 years. Coal camps and mines that are now long-gone are documented in the museum. The museum houses a replica of an underground mine so visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like in the mines.

“The underground coal mine exhibit is awesome,” Picerno said. “It’s really unique, and I think people enjoy it.”

The Fossil Country Frontier Museum features a replica of an underground coal mine, an homage to the area's rich coal mining history. The museum also explores bootlegging, J.C. Penney, the fossil industry, and local historic sites.

Of course, part of a museum’s duty is to keep a record of the shadier parts of history. During Prohibition, bootlegging was a big business in the area, enough to earn the moniker “Little Chicago,” so the museum educates on that exciting period of local history. There’s even an exhibit with a large copper still that was used to brew moonshine.

“A lot of the stuff we have here in the museum is on loan from families who have lived in Kemmerer and Diamondville for generations,” Picerno said.

An old Kemmerer High band uniform is featured in the Fossil Country Frontier Museum on Pine Avenue. The museum tells the exciting history of the community.

Picerno said the old building is full of surprises. She found a large curtain that may have been in the old Victory Theatre; it now hangs on the back of the stage in the museum. But there’s more to the Fossil Country Frontier Museum than what’s in the main exhibit gallery.

“We’ve got tons of photos in the archives, and our basement archives have a lot of other artifacts,” Picerno said. “I’d love to rotate some of that stuff up from the archives and flesh out these exhibits.”

The museum board members and staff have worked with Kemmerer fourth graders to educate them on local history, but hope to involve more of the public.

“I'd love to find more ways to engage that younger generation," Picerno said. “We’re always open to suggestions on how we can get more people through that door.”

The museum has hosted history nights and events, such as the Coal Camps and Memories dinner in September. They will also host a Fourth of July barbecue again this year.

“We had a lot of interest in the coal camps dinner,” Picerno said. “We need to get people involved so they realize that this is their story too.”

This old curtain may have once hung in the Victory Theater. 

The building is available for class reunions, and has several meeting spaces that organizations can rent. There’s a gift shop for visitors and residents alike to pick up a piece of local history.

The museum is open Thursday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., although the hours are usually extended in the summer because of the interest from tourists. Call the museum at (307) 877-6551 for more information about events or exhibits.

“We have an opportunity to make this history come alive,” Picerno said. “We need more volunteers to do that, and we’d love to hear from the community on how we can make the museum better.”

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