A Way Station?
Never call a "way station" a "saloon"
Indeed, what we built here is not a saloon but much more... a real way station.
Allow us to jump back in time, together with you, and "digest" some American history.
Way stations found their origin in the exploitation of the "Overland Trail Mail Route", which made sure that mail and passengers could travel between areas with and without railroads (the so-called "wild west"). The "overland Trail Mail Route" was owned by Ben Holladay, the "stage coach king". The "Overland Trail" was often confused with the "California" or "Oregon" trail that followed the North Platte Valley from Nebraska to Wyoming.
The name "Overland Trail" only refers to that part of the trail, established in 1862, that was specially developed to avoid "difficulties" with the American Indians along the Oregon Trail.
In July 1862, the Postmaster General officially ordered Ben Holladay and his "Overland Stage Company" to move his operation to central Wyoming, to a route formerly known as the "Cherokee Trail". Although this new route meant a detour for passengers and mail, it was also the only route immigrants were allowed to take. As a consequence, the "Overland Trail" became the most important corridor to the west between 1862 and 1868. The relay- and way stations, that were built along the trail, became a very much appreciated resting point for animals, passengers and drivers.
An estimated 20,000 immigrants per year used the "Overland Trail" between 1862 - 1868. A lot of them travelled in the typical "stagecoaches" (most of them built by "Abbott & Downing", Concord, New Hampshire, hence the name "Concord Stage") we know so well from western movies.
The "classic" stage coach
The only way station on the "Overland Trail" surviving its original site into the 21st century, is Virginia Dale Way Station, designated into the National Register of Historic Properties.
Virginia Dale Way Station today
The way station, the stables and out-buildings were built in 1862 by Jack Slade and named after his wife. The station is a "three-part" building with vertical post separating each section. Until 1920 it had two roofed porches. The first shingles on the station were freighted in from St. Joseph, Missouri, at a cost of 1,5 $ per pound. Around 1864 a 12m deep well was dug.
Jack Slade (left) and his wife Virginia (at the window)
The interior of the building is composed of one large open room with exposed log walls. A woodstove is placed in the centre of the room.
This way station, dear visitor, inspired us while developing our concept. Even more... we try to reconstruct as closely as possible the specific atmosphere of a way station. What, then, was so special about this way station? Well, in 1862, after its construction, Virginia Dale quickly became a bustling place. A number of Overland Stage employees called it "home": hostlers, stable boys, guards and drivers. Life at Virginia Dale was definitely less monotonous than at any other station: stages arriving at all hours, many meals being prepared, fears of Native American raids, fierce snow storms in winter, torrential rain in spring causing washouts on the trail, and always windy!
"Virginia Dale Way Station" and out-buildings before 1920
There was also a lively social life at most of the way stations, and Virginia Dale was no exception. Dances were held, and men and women would come from many miles around, using coach, wagon or horseback. Music was provided at many of the stations by piano, hauled overland by ox-cart. Many of the drivers and stock tenders played the fiddle or guitar, and would have been able to provide a variety of music for dancing - which often lasted all night. The favourite dances were the quadrilles and the Virginia Reel.
Warehouses on the grounds were filled to capacity with supplies of hay, grains, canned and dried fruits, and meats. Virginia Dale had the reputation of being one of the best supplied stations along the Overland trail. Supply wagons came and went on regular basis, delivering goods to other stations in the district. As you can see, a way station was a VIBRANT PLACE! This atmosphere we tried to recreate in the heart of the Ardennes.
Finally, a few words about Willow Springs. When you entered Wyoming from the south, using the Overland Trail, the first way station you would meet was Willow Springs, also known as "Dirty Woman" (I assume you will understand why we did NOT choose this name for our club and our building). In the beginning, it consisted of one wooden shed and a corral. More than once, is was set aflame by American Indians; every time it was rebuilt...bigger and stronger. Willow Springs was located in the middle of the prairie, near a grove of willow trees, near a well hence the name); the exact location, however, remains a mystery, even to historians. The way station is believed to have been located at about one mile southwest of Tie Sidings.