While the places I visit are often on the way down from their peak, there is still often a thing, or two in each that offers a traveler to a reason to stop. The name alone is what made it a dot on the map I needed to drive to. “Chugwater” got its name from the native American tribe in the area, the Mandan. It’s a reference to a buffalo hunt where the bison were chased over the edge of the nearby cliffs and after falling to their deaths many were heard making a chugging sound. A nearby stream is where the “water” part of the name comes from.
Chugwater however has one of my favorite stops when driving across the west. The Chugwater Soda Fountain. Just a stone’s throw off Interstate 25 in Eastern Wyoming (directions) , if you are traveling in between Cheyenne & Casper, or heading towards Devil’s Tower, or the Badlands I encourage you to stop. Especially if you have kids. The odds of a place like this still being around decreases year after year. Just ask fans (who I am one of) about the old Yellowstone Drug Store in Shoshoni, Wyoming. A classic soda shop & general store that had hardwood floors and if I remember correctly had floor to ceiling wood walls. Sadly it closed sometime around 2009.
Sadly though as I said above, Chugwater is one of those towns in rural America that are on the decline. According to Wikipedia, after seeing a population decline in of 32% in the 1980s, Chugwater had a strong rebound in the 1990s, but slumped again at the turn of this century. So in 2005, a promotion to attract new residents to the town offered building lots for $100, provided the new owner built a house within a year, and lived on the property for at least two years. Four lots were sold. No word on how many built a home, or stayed.
Today Chugwater has an estimated population of 216. It’s only gas station & connivence store closed after car crash and fire in 2012, so residents have to drive as far as Cheyenne to fill up and older GPS devices still list it as a working station, so plenty of motorists low on gas have run into trouble. At least three stopped into the soda fountain while we were there, but good news, kind of, there’s a guy in town who will sell you gas, but at a price.
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Go out and find your Lost Americana.
Vincent D. Johnson