HARTVILLE – The former Sunrise school grounds were abuzz Sunday with community members past and present for a community-wide picnic. Jim Sisson and Butch Orr, both graduates of the Sunrise High School, sat together at the entrance to a large post frame building, northwest of the former Sunrise football field.
“(It’s) just a Hartville get-together. The Sunrise School used to be right here,” said Sisson of the remains of the Sunrise school grounds. “I graduated from here,” said Sisson.
Sisson graduated from Sunrise school in 1962, while Orr graduated in 1955.
Classmates from years gone by cheerfully walked around the grounds, shaking one another’s hands and telling stories of the ‘good ol’ days.’
Hartville is “Wyoming’s oldest incorporated town still in existence,” a sign at the west edge of town informs drivers of this as they enter.
Hartville was established in 1884 as a mining town. Prospectors sought gold, silver, copper, onyx and iron, according to the Platte County Chamber of Commerce.
Hartville was the hub of activity for the area, especially in the early days. Hartville had a general store, mercantile, bar and brothel. While Hartville was the hub of activity, the mine was just over a mile to the east, at the town of Sunrise.
Sunrise had its beginnings as a company town, run by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. The company controlled all phases of the production of steel. It owned the iron ore mines, the coal companies, the foundry, the railroad that brought the coal and ore to the foundry. It owned the miners, the town they lived in, and the company store, the Colorado Supply Company, at which miners traded, according to wyomingtalesandtrails.com.
The Sunrise mine stayed in operation until the late 1980’s. Many people left the Hartville-Sunrise area when the mine shut down, but many loyal members of the community remain to this day.
One such townswoman is Marian (Testolin) Offe of Hartville. She volunteers at the old Hartville schoolhouse, now a community center and museum, housing artifacts and information about Hartville, Sunrise and the mining community of the past.
“The museum is open summers, Memorial Day to Labor Day, on Saturdays. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” said Offe.
She attended the Sunrise school from kindergarten, graduating in 1951. “My dad graduated with the second graduating class in 1923,” Offe said.
Kathy Troupe, an organizer for the event and current owner of the Sunrise school grounds, recently purchased the land after she learned of a threat of it being subdivided. Troupe wished to keep the memories of the old school alive.
“This picnic is an annual gathering for citizens of Hartville, but Sunrise has an alumnus gathering, as well. The two gatherings are comprised of mostly the same people,” said Troupe. She hopes to continue the tradition for future generations, and preserve the history of the location.
Troupe pointed to an ‘S’ made of rocks on the hillside southeast of the school grounds.
“It was a freshman initiation to have them whitewash the ‘S’ on the hill. We are going to paint the ‘S’ on the hill and put solar lights on it.”
Troupe said the Sunrise school remained open until 1963. In 1963, Guernsey and Sunrise consolidated schools. The Sunrise schools were torn down in 1968. All that remains are the foundations for the buildings and the ‘S’ on the hill.
Troupe jokingly told a friend, Fred Romero, to “climb up the hill and paint the ‘S’”. Romero, a Guernsey-Sunrise graduate of the class of 1965, chuckled at Troupe, and said he intended to.
“That used to be our football field right out there. Coach used to have us run up and down to the ‘S’ to get us in shape,” Romero remembers. “They worked on the field for a while and they had us run to Hartville, then to another field. When we would come around this way, some of the parents would have garden hoses and spray us down.”
The stories of Hartville and Sunrise continue to flow. Bobby ‘Biker Bob’ Eldredge and Chuck ‘The Adventurist’ Steele were present at the picnic and are creating a documentary about the area. According to their Facebook page, “we travel the country, sharing our adventures of whatever we may find along the way. 307backroadbikers is finding the forgotten parts of America!”