Collections - Towns and Communities - Opal
History of the Town of Opal
by Christina Earl, Councilperson, 1993 (with additions)
The first store in Opal was started in a tent by James Davison. In 1890 Hugh McKay and his partner G.M. Miles of
Big Piney bought and enlarged the business. This was a very prosperous business of selling dry goods and farm
In 1892 Buckhalter and Cotton merged with this business and the Opal Mercantile Company was established with
James W. Chrisman and the Petrie brothers as its officers. These partners also operated a branch establishment at
Granger, the junction of the Union Pacific and Oregon Short Line railroads. The establishment became the largest
stocked store in the county. It was commonplace for the mercantile to unload up to ten railcars of merchandise at a
On December 1, 1897, President William McKinley issued a land patent to Charles J.Hunsaker and his heirs.
An election was held August 3, 1914 which resulted in the unanimous decision to incorporate Opal. First municipal
election was held August 25 1914; Mayor - James F. Petrie; Councilmen: A. W. Payne, W. H. Solliday, E. C. Pyle
and James W. Chrisman. The early 1900s were very prosperous for the little Town.
The building in which the Opal Mercantile operated served many purposes including the Post Office which was
operated by Postmaster James Petrie. The Post Office remained in this building until 1985.
The head clerk was Finley Petrie who was Captain of the Opal baseball team as well as contributing editor for the
Kemmerer newspaper, writing the 'Opal Happenings'.
James Chrisman, the third partner in the Opal Mercantile Company, was a prominent citizen in southwest
Wyoming, He was a Senator, Vice President of the Kemmerer Savings Bank, a member of the school board and
Mayor of Opal, as well as a rancher and father of eight children who all called him 'Boss'. Although he did not have
an operating position at the Opal Mercantile, he had much command over the business.
As long as there was a stage route through Wyoming the Opal Mercantile served as a stage station.
The first of many robberies took place in 1918. Finn Petrie discovered the building had been broken into and
reported a large quantity of merchandise had been removed. The robbers were never identified.
In 1927, the Opal Mercantile was destroyed by a fire, which was discovered to have been caused by paper cartons
inside of the coal house which ignited and engulfed the entire building in flames. Several injuries were the result of
trying to save records and office equipment. The loss was estimated at upward of $60,000.00 with little insurance to
offset the totally destroyed building and its contents.
Just a short time prior to this fire, the Solliday, the only Hotel in Opal was also taken by a fire. So the proposed
new structure was to include both businesses in one building.
In November of 1928 this building opened its doors on Lot 9 Block 3; just on the east side of the town square. The
hotel, operated by Mrs. Petrie and Mrs. Chrisman, was on the second floor and consisted of fourteen rooms, which
were very modern and even had baths.
In 1913, the proprietors of the Opal Mercantile donated money to have an Oregon Trail marker placed in the town
square. It was dedicated “To All Pioneers Who Passed This Way To Win And Hold The West”. This marker sits
just west of the Mercantile.
In 1959, Frank Sears, the son-in-law of James Chrisman, became the manager of the Opal Mercantile and
eventually bought out the Petrie brothers. At the time that Frank operated the Mercantile, George and Goldie
Peterson ran the hotel. This hotel thrived on business from construction workers who were building the Opal Gas
plant, now known as Williams Field Services. But after completing the construction of the plant the hotel could no
longer afford to operate and it closed its doors.
For unknown reasons, the Town Government was inactive for a period of years. Then when a developer bought the
Town, a public meeting was held August 13, 1981 and a Council was appointed. An official municipal election was
held August 1982 where Dennis Biggs was elected Mayor.
In 1981 Frank Sears negotiated the sale of the building and its land to Rocky Mountain Mobile Communities, a
group of shareholders from the Denver area, who later sold it to Steve Tyndall. In 1985, the first sales of liquor in this
building began with the opening of the Bar-N and because of these sales, the Post Office was forced to move to
another location and operate from its own building. The Bar-N was the most prosperous bar in the area during the
"Exxon Boom' and it boasted go-go girls and catered to the construction workers. This business closed in 1987
when the 'Boom' 'Busted' and there has not been any business in the building since. The gas pumps and tanks
have been removed, and the windows are boarded up. It looks as lonely and devastated as the people who
remember buying candy arid fishing licenses there must feel when they look at the deserted building.
The Opal Mercantile Company
Opal being the nearest railroad point to the Upper Green River Valley section, the Fontenelle and La Barge ranching
sections, etc., it has come to be an Important trading and freighting center for the ranchers of all these sections.
The flourishing company that looks after the wants of those who trade at Opal is the Opal Mercantile Company. It is
one of the biggest mercantile establishments in western Wyoming and does an immense business each year. A
large amount of its business is done on a large scale to ranchmen who buy orders often amounting to thousands of
dollars. This is the way people shop in the West.
Practically all the business section of Opal consists of numerous store buildings and warehouses of the Opal
Mercantile Co. The main store is filled from cellar to attic with high-grade groceries, meats, flour, canned goods,
light hardware, furniture, etc.
In here is also located the post office thru which all upper country mail is carried; also a full line of men's and ladies'
Scattered around the town are other large buildings and warehouses where farm implements of every description,
lumber, building materials, etc., are carried. The company has the agency for such celebrated lines as John Deere
machinery, McCormick hay and harvesting machinery, binders, tillage machinery, plows, Weber and Bain wagons
of every size and description, harness, graders, hay and grain, etc. It has recently acquired the agency for
International auto trucks, Lincoln County being a great country for trucks. It's the aim of the company to be able to
furnish the rancher anything that he may need, any time he wants it, and at reasonable prices. The company is to
be congratulated for the way it has built up its business in the past few years. It is an incorporated company, of
which James W. Chrisman is president, P. B. Petrie, secretary, and James F. Petrie treasurer and manager,
Derivation of Town's Name
I was born in the 'Old Brown House' near the dance hall in 1918, and how the town got it's name was a question I
remembered asking at an early age. The common reply was that either a sheepherder or a prospector found an
Opal on that spot, circa unknown. 0-PAL, (accent on the 2nd syllable), was a pronunciation that indicated you
were a native, rather than the sissified pronunciation akin to the stone. The Highway Department sign always
indicated a stable population of 75, which led to the local joke of the reason for this stability - every time a baby
was born, a man left town. Other stories say a man had a dog named, 0 pal. Still, others say when the Engineer
on the Train called out the name of each town, he stretched out the name; "Oh-pal" .
The person I always felt was a true Opal pioneer was James W. Chrisman- his carriage, flowing mustache and
kindness towards kids met my history book idea of what a pioneer should be. Others that I would now consider in
that category include William Solliday, my mother's step-dad, and probably one of the first, if not the first Saloon
Keeper in the area! Al & Lee Payne certainly pioneered the Fox Farming effort, along with Charlie Danielson.
Largest Shipping Point on the Oregon Short Line Railroad
If Opal had ever had a Chamber of Commerce, that would have been the number one selling point. Opal’s history
would not be complete unless one considers the pioneering efforts of the 'Upper Country' ranchers- Frank Pomeroy,
Ned Herschler, Jimmy Michelson, Vego Millers, to name a few.
Cy Doty, Mr. Regnier and other 'Depot Agents', along with those hardy souls who maintained the tracks and signals
certainly deserve recognition.
The wives of the Pioneers should also be recognized and admired for their tremendous contributions. Hanging
clothes that froze as soon as they hit the line in sub-zero weather, preparing meals on coal and woodburning stoves
that were almost impossible to regulate; and raising kids with the nearest medical help miles away was a
Growing Up In Opal
The pictures of the Opal Basketball team and student body were probably taken in the 1931 to 1933 era.
Basketball was played on an outdoor court behind the schoolhouse (mostly by sweeping and shoveling away the
snow and using an outdoor ball-made with heavy leather seams for longer wear- great for toughing up the biscuit
hooks. There were also some hoops in the old dance hall, but the iron stone near the far basket will long be
remembered for the 2nd and 3rd degree burns inflicted.
In the summertime, baseball on a field that we maintained by dragging heavy metal and wood behind a Model T to
smooth the playing surface would have shocked today’s Little League parents, but your present Governor, Ed
Herschler, played some American Legion ball on fields like that. On Sunday the town teams from Kemmerer,
LaBarge, Fontenelle & Big Piney came to play.
Swimming in the old swimming hole was the greatest. The boys swam-sun suits- until 2:00 PM at which time the
girls and their moms joined the 'Pool Crowd'. Made our own diving boards, and played ice hockey on the same spot
during the winter.
Summer employment consisted of loading wool bags (25 - 35 cents an hour) or working in the hay fields.
It had to be a character building place to grow up, 27 of the kids born or reared in Opal were in World War II almost
all were combat veterans of one theater of operations or another.
Opal does not have a cemetery at present. However, folklore indicates that there is a Chinese burial ground just
north of Town dating back to the early days of the railroad. No grave markers are known to exist there now.