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As Cheyenne looks to rebuild on the scorched ground, the ghost of ‘the Hitch’ still lingers

The iconic Hitching Post sign in an undated photo. (Wyoming State Archives, Fendley Collection)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -Some ghosts never had skin and bones. Some ghosts were once plaster and hardwood floors. Cheyenne is filled with all types of these structural specters that used to serve as iconic landmarks around town.

From the spot where the towering Owl Inn Sign once stood in Moore Haven Heights that called hungry Cheyennites in for some homemade chicken noodle soup to the downtown hole, there are plenty of empty spaces in our town that used to be such important landmarks in our community.

Through the years, the landscape of Cheyenne has started to look more and more like a hockey player who is missing a half-dozen teeth.

However, there is no vacancy that feels more empty around town than does the land where the Hitching Post Inn once proudly occupied.

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While the decline of the Hitching Post was years in the making, it is hard to argue that the cause of death to the property was anything other than the twin fires that consumed it over the course of a decade.

The conferencing complex of the structure burned down due to arson in 2010. According to Cheyenne law enforcement, after the fire, transient populations had been known to occupy what was left of the facility.

The Hitching Post in the fall of 2019. (John Roedel)

A second fire on January 15th, 2020 at the nearly vacant property was the concluding death blow to the historic building. Two weeks later, Cheyenne Fire and Rescue stated that the remaining buildings comprising what used to be the Hitching Post Inn were unsafe and the remaining structures have been ordered demolished.

What remained was just a pile of burnt debris and memory.

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(John Roedel)

For motorists coming into Cheyenne off of I-25, the scorched ground where the Hitching Post once stood has remained an eyesore – while for residents the empty lot has been a constant source of heartache.

Over the last couple of months, new Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins has said that he has been talking “regularly” to a person who is interested in buying the property.

“He has plans for restaurants and entertainment along Lincolnway and 120 condo units in the area behind them.  When you are working with hazardous buildings it takes time and we are making good progress,” Collins wrote.

Since the Hitching Post fell from grace years ago, Cheyenneites have had their hopes raised before when it comes to bringing life back to the grounds where the Hitching Post once stood.

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One can only hope that as plans are being made to build new structures in West Lincolnway that officials will remember how important the Hitching Post was to the city of Cheyenne. It wasn’t just a hotel that featured a couple of restaurants and a low-lit lounge.

It was the beating heart of the City of Cheyenne that happened to exist on the edge of town.

At one point the Hitching Post, often affectionately known by residents as “The Hitch” was the place where socializing was blended with business and legislative horsetrading.

Those were the days before the relentless effects of time caught up with the Hitch, as it does to all of us. Those were the days before the paint started to chip off of the exterior of the landmark and the hardwood began to warp inside. Those were the days before two fires came to turn the once-proud gemstone in Cheyenne’s crown into a plot of scorched and abandoned earth.

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Those were the days before the Hitching Post became a smoldering phantom of ash and cherished memories for anybody who once walked its stretching tobacco-scented hallways.

Before its fall, The Hitch was part respite for the weary traveler, part political backroom, and part rowdy concert hall. It was the perfect representation of Cheyenne – and the hope of this writer is that someday soon this area will burst to life once again like a forest after a merciless wildfire.

The Lincoln Court was built in 1925 in west Cheyenne on the Lincoln Highway by Pete Smith during the advent of the automobile. Smith chose the Lincoln Highway on what he hoped that someday would become a busy roadway filled with travelers looking for a place to stay. The Lincoln Court started with humble two-dozen rooms before expanding and being renamed “The Hitching Post.”

The Hitching Post and Coffee Shop, 1950. (Wyoming State Archives)

Pete Smith’s son, Harry eventually took over the family business and made a push to get legislators around the state of Wyoming to get them to stay at their establishment. Harry with the help of his sons Paul and Dell (who would eventually take over operations) recruited elected officials to stay at the Hitching Post for a modest $5 a night.

Of course, everyone knows that wherever legislators are present in high volumes, lobbyists are naturally inclined to follow. Soon enough, the Hitch became a hotbed of political wheeling and dealing. One can only imagine the Wyoming laws being debated under a haze of cigar smoke and soundtracked by the clamor of clinking whiskey glasses.

The Hitching Post bar, circa late 1960s. (Wyoming State Archives, Fendley Collection)

It was common practice for former Wyoming Governor Ed Herschler to hold a daily roundup in the corner of the bar with his peers to discuss the issues facing Wyoming.

John F. Kennedy spent the night at the iconic hotel in 1960 while campaigning across the county to receive the bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

Hitching Post interior, Dec. 1967. (Wyoming State Archives, Fendley Collection)

During Frontier Days it was common for guests and staff members of the Hitching Post to bump into a county crooner wandering its halls.

“It was 1978 and I was working the front desk when all of the sudden Kenny Rogers walked up to check in. I was so young at the time and I remember my hands shaking when I handed him a pen to sign his name,” Cynthia Redbook, a former employee of the Hitching Post recalled.

“Kenny just winked at me and said ‘It’s okay darlin’. This is just a dream.’ I about died where I was standing,” Redbook said.

However, of all of the musicians that passed through the doors of the Hitching Post, there is one name that became synonomis with the building:

Michael DeGreve.

For three decades DeGreve would hold court in the lounge with his guitar to entertain locals and tourists alike with his trademarked smile, on-brand rock n’ roll hair and vocal that were smoother than any river rock you can find in Wyoming.

Courtesy of Michael DeGreeve (website)

“So many memories and friends from the hitch days,” DeGreve said when thinking about his time in Cheyenne.

DeGreve’s time at the Hitching Post all started with a simple phone call from his agent and a two-week contract from Paul Smith.

“It was June, 1977. I was still living in Los Angeles. My agent, Edna Whiting, called and asked me what I thought about Cheyenne. I said, “I don’t. Where is it?” She told me about The Hitching Post Inn. She told me the owner, Paul Smith, was looking for someone just like me to develop his new lobby lounge. She told me what a great person Paul was, and that I might want to do a couple weeks and see what I thought,” the singer recollected.

DeGreve added that he was in-between gigs at the time and thought “why not?” “I loaded up my VW bus and thought I’d do a couple of weeks,” he went on to say.

From his first set, Degreve said he felt something special happened.

“I had no idea if my set list, heavy on Eagles, CSN, Neil Young, Cat Stevens, Dylan, Jim Croce, Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. would work there. I really didn’t do any country at all. But people were coming in and giving me great energy right from the start,” he stated.

That first night was the opening moments of what ended up being an incredible relationship between DeGreve and those lucky enough to walk into the lounge when he was playing.

Courtesy of Michael DeGreve (website)

“Sometime during that first two weeks, Paul asked me what I was doing next, and if I would be interested in sticking around and building something there. Paul and I hit it off right from the start. He was a great person, and I miss him. Something inside told me it might be worth trying. Paul and I agreed we’d leave it open and if either of us wanted to make a change, we’d give the other one some notice. We never signed another piece of paper. 30 years on a hand shake!” DeGreve recalled.

Courtesy of the Cheyenne Police Department

When the Hitching Post burned to the ground in 2010, DeGreve wrote the following reflection on his time there:

When Cheyenne lost Paul Smith, and now the Hitching Post, something special was taken away from a lot of people. I know I would still be there playing for you. And as excited about the future as I am, I look back to that time in my life, and all of you that were there with me and for me, with tremendous nostalgia, deep feelings of love and incredible gratitude for being given the chance to know you and perform for you all those years.

Michael DeGreve April 10, 2010

Now, with all of the discussions going on behind the scenes about the future of the property where The Hitching Post served as Cheyenne’s unofficial welcome center, there is renewed optimism that the phantom pain many residents feel will be replaced with something that our community can be proud of.

Of course, nothing will ever take the place of the Hitch for many Cheyenne residents. Those memories are forever stitched in the fabric of the hearts of those os us who were blessed enough to eaten at a fat steak the Cattle Company or to have sat in the lounge and listen to DeGreeve croon some sweet 70’s ballad.

However, that doesn’t mean that what comes next shouldn’t be given a chance to grow into something special – just like the Lincoln Court did back in its humble beginning nearly 100 years ago.

If you ever have a chance to stand on the fire-scarred grounds and stay so very silent you can still hear the ghost of the Hitching Post invite you to keep your mind open to the possibility that new life can grow there once again.

It’s time to believe again that Cheyenne can again wear its heart on the sleeve of West Lincolnway.

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