Trail End overlooking Sheridan, circa 1912 (Gwinn Collection, SCHS)
(Sheridan Collection, TESHS)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2014 - December 2015
State Historic Site
IN ADDITION TO the cook and maid, the Kendricks hired a woman to come in and do laundry once a week. While Trail End’s laundry room was great for everyday washing and drying, dyeing and dry cleaning projects were normally sent to professionals. Dry cleaning was especially hazardous to amateurs.
Dry cleaning – the process of removing dirt and stains without water – relies on highly flammable fluids. Prior to World War One, gasoline and kerosene were preferred. They worked really well, but stain-free clothing was not without its hazards: it was not unheard of for a woman’s dress to catch fire near the open flame of a cook stove after the application of too much stain remover. After the war, less flammable (but still very dangerous) chlorinated solvents came into use.
Sheridan’s first dry cleaner – Everett Cope – advertised his new services in 1901 by appealing to women: "Ladies, Call and get your skirts cleaned and pressed by the only dry cleaning process, look like new, opposite City Hall." Within a few years, most of the town’s laundry services offered dry cleaning, as did a number of specialty shops:
The Sheridan Pantatorium, Leslie H Halsel, prop., [offers] the only up-to-date cleaning establishment in Wyoming. Ladies', gentleman's and children's garments of all descriptions cleaned and dyed. Goods called for and delivered to all parts of city free. Express and mail orders a specialty.
Because their fine silks and linens didn’t stand up to the rigors of scrubbing in the Trail End laundry tubs, Eula, Rosa-Maye and Diana Kendrick patronized local dry cleaners and laundries. Like the Sheridan Pantatorium and Superior Laundry, most offered free home delivery service.
In November 1884, The Big Horn Sentinel noted that a "washee house" - Chinese laundry - had recently opened in Sheridan. From that time until the late 1920s, Sheridan was home to a number of Chinese-born entrepreneurs who operated laundries, plus restaurants and even a brothel or two.
The first Chinese resident identified by name was Sam Sing, who in 1885 advertised "washing and mending done on short notice; satisfaction guaranteed." He was later joined by Hong Sing and Ah Din. The latter, along with doing laundry, sold Oriental trinkets at his laundry on South Main Street. One of these men may have been the gentleman referred to by The Sheridan Enterprise in this local news snippet from 1888: "An almond-eyed, cock-eyed, son-of-a-heathen came in on the coach from Buffalo this week and contemplates starting a laundry."
These laundries were mobile institutions housed in shacks along Main Street. In 1893, several were located on South Main in the vicinity of Sheridan two largest hotels, the Windsor and the Grand Central:
The building next door to the Leaverton block, occupied as a Chinese laundry, was placed on wheels and moved to the lot adjoining the Windsor hotel Monday. The moving process occupied about six hours and did not in any manner interfere with the laundry work going on inside the building. Regular patrons of this particular Celestial wash shop will therefore suffer no inconvenience in the shape of being compelled to wait for clean clothing.
That same year, several of Sheridan's Chinese laundrymen were involved in a violent turf war. According to local papers, a laundryman known as "Pork Chops" sold his South Main business to Gee Lung on the condition that he (Pork Chops) not start another laundry in town. Shortly thereafter, Tom Nix opened a wash house, one that Gee Lung accused of being a "front" for Pork Chops. During the disagreement, someone set fire to the building operated by Gee Lung (referred to in The Sheridan Enterprise as "Gee Whiz"). Little damage was done, and eventually, Pork Chops left the laundry business.
As, in the end, did all his fellow countrymen.
For years, anti-Chinese sentiment had been building in America. Sheridan got on board in 1893 when The Sheridan Enterprise, under the headline 'The Chinese Must Go," opined: "It has been clearly demonstrated that the Chinese are an undesirable class to foster in this republic." As early as 1897, the Sheridan Steam Laundry advertised against Chinese laundries ("Why do you send your clothes to a Chinese laundry when you can send them to a first-class steam laundry?"). In 1907, the Pioneer Steam Laundry placed decidedly anti-Chinese ads in the local papers ("Patronize an American laundry and thus cut off the Chinese").