Wyoming’s educational scene has evolved significantly since its inception in the mid-nineteenth century. By the time Wyoming became a territory in 1868, several federal and private schools existed, constructed within Wyoming’s early frontier forts.
The first school in Wyoming was built at Fort Laramie by the Post Chaplain, Rev. Richard Vaux, in 1852. The simple log schoolhouse served the children of officers and traders at the fort. The Territorial Legislature established in 1868 established a robust school district system that ushered in the growth of public education in Wyoming.
Today’s post explores the eight oldest schools in the state still operating. You’ll learn about their unique histories, notable alumni, changes that occurred over time, and current educational offerings. It’s essential to know that there may be schools established earlier than those listed, but they lack documented history to corroborate their founding dates.
Here are the eight oldest schools in Wyoming today.
St Mary’s Catholic School, 1884
2200 O’Neil Ave, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82001
St. Mary’s Catholic School is a private catholic school in Cheyenne, WY. The school serves the Catholic community in the Cathedral of St. Mary, Church of the Holy Trinity, and St. Joseph Catholic Church parishes. St. Mary's School has roughly 197 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
The school’s history can be traced back to 1884. The local parish established a mission school named St. John the Baptist School. St. John’s operated out of an old church building with an approximate enrollment of 100 students.
The local church purchased land on 24th St and Central and Warren Ave and built a permanent campus. The new school reopened as the Academy of the Holy Child of Jesus, which later shifted to 19th and Carey Ave.
The school was renamed St Mary’s Academy in 1933. St. Mary’s Academy opened its high school section in 1938, changing its name to St. Mary’s High School. Msgr. Hartmann, the local priest, arranged for a new convent to be built in 1949, with plans for a new grade school launched.
The elementary section reopened as the St. Mary’s Grade School. Bishop Newell dedicated the new facilities, capable of hosting up to 1,000 students, on August 31st, 1952. The high school section got a new chapel in the 1960s, with the largest graduation class in 1968 with 88 graduates.
The St. Mary High School was shut in 1981 as the Dominican Sisters that ran the school left. The school was reopened as Seton Catholic High School, a tri-parish high school. St. Mary’s Grade School still operated, serving the elementary section.
Seton Catholic High School didn’t last long, shutting its doors ten years later. St Mary’s Grade School continued to operate, opening on a new campus on 2200 O’Neill Ave in 2008. The school was then renamed to St. Mary's Catholic School.
The school offers a rigorous and enriched curriculum based on Catholicism. Students take classes in religion, reading, math, writing, science, and social studies. They can also enroll in enrichment classes in Spanish, music, and physical education.
University of Wyoming, 1887
1000 E University Ave, Laramie, WY 82071
The University of Wyoming (U.W.) is a public land-grant research university in Laramie. Founded in 1887, U.W. is the state’s oldest institution of higher learning. The school offers over 70 undergraduate majors through its seven constituent colleges, with roughly 11,479 students enrolled. The Carnegie Foundation classifies it under “R2: Doctoral Universities – High research activity.”
The university traces its history back to 1887. In a compromise among territorial legislators, the Territory of Wyoming allocated the Capitol to Cheyenne, an insane asylum to Evanston, and the university to Laramie.
Territorial Governor Francis E. Warren allocated $50,000 for the construction of the first university, with Fredrick Hale contracted to design and Cook and Callahan to build Old Main. Old Main, the university’s first building, was built in the Romanesque Revival style and was completed on September 1st, 1887. Classes began seven days later.
The first class consisted of 42 men and women. The Old Main housed classes, an auditorium, administration offices, and a library. Due to structural concerns, the school removed the central spire from the Old Main in 1924. The size of the auditorium was reduced in a 1936 renovation. The building still houses the university’s administration to date.
The school has undergone numerous renovations and building expansions on its 2,060-acre campus. The Half Acre Wellness and Recreational Center was built in 1925, and the Wyoming Union building in 1937.
The original library at the school had 300 books. The library was then shifted to the Aven Nelson Memorial Building in 1923. As the population grew in 1950, the school planned to construct a new library. Despite funding challenges and rejections from the state legislature, U.W. managed to build the William Robertson Coe Library in 1958.
Notable University of Wyoming Alumni
As Wyoming's oldest institute of higher learning, it's no surprise that the University of Wyoming has some notable alumni. Notable alumni that attended the school include:
- Josh Allen, quarterback for the Buffalo Bills
- Rodney Anderson, a former member of the Wyoming House of Representatives
- Jerry Buss, the controlling owner of the Los Angeles Lakers
- Dick Cheney, 46th vice president of the United States of America
- Francis Chelsey, former linebacker for the Green Bay Packers
- Steve Cochran, actor
- Dave Freudenthal, 31st governor of Wyoming
- Chuck Pagano, former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts
- Carol Tome, CEO of UPS
- John J. Hickey, 24th governor of Wyoming
- Art Howe, former MLB infielder and coach
- Alan K. Simpson, former U.S. Senator
Sheridan High School, 1892
1056 Long Dr, Sheridan, WY 82801
Sheridan High School is a highly-rated public school in the Shetenndan County School District 2. The school began in 1892 and is one of the oldest public schools established in Wyoming. It serves roughly 1,004 students in ninth through twelfth grade.
The school’s history dates back to 1892. In preparation for the demolition of a 78-year-old Sheridan Junior High School in 2004, a group of journalism students embarked on a fact-finding mission dubbed “Project Citizen” to uncover the school’s history.
The students discovered that Sheridan High School began in 1892. It was located on the top floor of an 1891 school building on the 100th block of East Loucks. Only a few of the 350 students attending Sheridan Schools that year enrolled for junior year. The first graduation ceremony was held in 1894, with three students graduating.
The school’s first curriculum included plane geometry, algebra, geology, physical geography, botany, Latin, history, rhetoric, literature, and bookkeeping. One teacher, Professor B.F. Ogden of Wapello, Iowa, taught all classes.
The school was renamed Nielsen Heights School in 1896, opening on a new campus in the present J.J. Early building. It was a four-room grade school building in block 10 of the new Nielsen Heights Addition. The land was donated by local rancher and developer A.J. (Andrew Joseph) Nielsen.
The school shifted locations in 1906, with a two and half-brick building built east of the four-room school. The school was renamed to Hill School. A new three-story brick building with 44 classrooms, laboratories, a large auditorium, and a modern cafeteria was unveiled in 1926, with the school changing its name to Sheridan High School.
The new building served as the Sheridan High School campus for fifty-two years before becoming the location for the Sheridan Junior High School. The school received several additions and improvements over the years, including the gym addition in 1950.
The current Sheridan High School building was built in 1978 and consists of 232,418 square feet of space under the roof. The 40-acre campus also has a 444 seat auditorium and 1800 seat main gym.
The school ranks among the best schools in the state, with U.S. News ranking it second. Test scores for the school are far above the state average, with 70% attaining proficiency in English and 68% in math.
Natrona County High School, 1896
930 S Elm St, Casper, WY 82601
Natrona County High School is a top-rated public school in the Natrona County School District 1. The school serves roughly 1,717 students in ninth through twelfth grade. Natrona traces its roots back to 1896 as Casper High School, making it one of the oldest public schools in the state.
Discovery of the Salt Creek Oil Field in the 1910s transformed Casper from a small ranching and railroad town to a large oil refining and shipping city. The population boom led to state officials proposing a new building to house Casper High School.
The school’s current building was built from 1924 through 1941 and remains one of the most iconic buildings in Wyoming. The architectural firm of Garbutt, Weidner, and Sweeney designed the school in a Collegiate Gothic style with a dramatic entry tower.
The school completed its indoor swimming pool in 1929, making it the first indoor school pool in the state. In the 1940s, the building hosted Casper College on the third floor before the institution relocated to its current 200-acre campus.
Natrona County High School was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 1st, 1994. In 2012, the state legislature approved a $118 million budget for renovating and expanding the iconic structure.
The school offers numerous academic and technical courses, including agriculture, automotive, an International Baccalaureate diploma, and JROTC. The JROTC program at Natrona County High claims to be the second oldest in the nation, holding its centenary celebrations in 2014.
Notable Natrona County High Alumni
As one of Wyoming's oldest schools, Natrona County High has some notable alumni. These include:
- Lynne Cheney, former Vice President Dick Cheney's wife
- Logan Wilson, linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals
- Lance Deal, silver medalist at the 1996 Olympics
- James A. Corbett, founder of the Sanctuary movement to help Central American refugees in the 1980s
- Dick Cheney, 46th Vice President of the United States
- Mike Lansing, former second baseman who played for multiple MLB teams
- Matthew Shepard, Laramie resident whose murder sparked new legislation to protect LGBT individuals from hate crimes
- Geoffrey Lower, actor
- Taven Bryan, defensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts
Holy Name Catholic School, 1914
121 S Connor St, Sheridan, WY 82801
The Holy Name Catholic School is a private Catholic school under the Holy Name Parish in Sheridan, WY. The school serves roughly 122 Students in preschool through sixth grade. The school traces its origin to 1914, making it the oldest operating Catholic school operating in the same continuous location in the state.
Father John Duffy, the parish priest, requested the Sisters of Charity, who lived in Mother House in Leavenworth, Kansas, to come to Sheridan to help establish a mission school. Three sisters accepted the invite, riding on a train from Kansas to Sheridan in the August heat.
The school opened in September 1914, with the building barely finished. There were four classrooms that housed eight grades and an extra room that served as the boarding section for the sisters.
The school remained operational through World War Ⅰ, the Great Depression, and World War Ⅱ. Shortly after World War Ⅱ, a concern arose over the lack of athletic facilities at Holy Name that forced its students to utilize other schools’ facilities. The school had just launched a basketball team, with parishioners offering to sew uniforms for the first twelve athletes.
The parish came up with plans to build a gymnasium, cafeteria, additional classrooms, kitchen, library, and two meeting rooms for the school. However, issues relating to the poor subsoil and financial constraints delayed the start of the project, which was completed in 1952.
The first PTA board was organized in 1951 and took over the school’s hot lunch program. The new school building, consisting of an auditorium, a gymnasium, and a cafeteria, was dedicated in 1952.
The PTA board in the 1960s organized more school renovations and developments, including installing glare-proof windows in classrooms, new tiling, and plumbing. The school opened the kindergarten section for the first time in 1981. The original school building that still stands to date was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Cheyenne Central High School, 1904
5500 Education Dr, Cheyenne, WY 82009
Cheyenne Central High School is an above-average school in Cheyenne. The school serves roughly 1,264 students in ninth through twelfth grade. Cheyenne Central traces its founding date to 1904, when it received accreditation from the Wyoming State Department of Education.
The school’s predecessor, Cheyenne High School, was founded in 1868, making it the oldest public high school established in the state. The school district gradually divided the school into Cheyenne Central, Cheyenne West, and Cheyenne East. The North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools later accredited Cheyenne Central High in 1909.
The JROTC program at the school is one of the oldest in the nation, which began as a cooperation between the Wyoming National Guard and the school in 1903. The program switched to a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army in 1916.
Notable Cheyenne High Alumni
Cheyenne High School has a number of notable alumni, including:
- Don Westbrook, former wide receiver for the New England Patriots
- Chris LeDoux, country music artist and rodeo hall of famer
- Boyd Dowler, former wide receiver with the Green Bay Packers
- Harriet Elizabeth Boyd, first African-American member of the Wyoming legislature
- Monte Olsen, former member of the Wyoming House of Representatives
- Bryce Meredith, professional mixed martial artist currently competing in the bantamweight division of Bellator MMA
Roosevelt High School, 1922
3000 Independence Court, Casper, 82604
Roosevelt High School is an alternative public school for the Natrona County School District in Casper, WY. The school isn’t a “school of choice” option, with students required to start the qualification and transfer process from their home school. Roosevelt High currently serves roughly 217 students in grades 9-12.
Roosevelt High traces its roots back to 1922, when the school district founded the North Casper School. North Casper was established to serve the lower-income population in the city’s northern neighborhoods. The school was later renamed in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt.
The school operated in the original building till 2016, when it switched to its new campus at 3000 Independence Court. The old school building was then sold to the Casper Housing Authority, which plans to establish a veteran center on the building.
Northwest College, 1946
231 W 6th St, Powell, WY 82435
In 1945, the state legislature passed the Junior College Act, which allowed Wyoming school districts, with voter approval, to establish two-year colleges to offer adult education classes. 1n March 1946, Powell residents provided signatures to petition the establishment of a college by School District No. 1.
However, the petition was preempted by the University of Wyoming’s decision to open a fully-accredited two-year college in Powell. The University of Wyoming Northwest Center opened on September 10th, 1946, marking the founding date for Northwest College. The classes were held in the Powell High School building’s second floor.
In April 1949, the University of Wyoming rescinded its financial support to the school. The school district took over all operating and financial responsibilities, with students receiving U.W. credits. The school relocated to its own building in September of the same year at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center.
The school changed its name to Northwest Community College in 1953 after a referendum ratifying its establishment as an independent college passed with a 981-158 vote. A complicated land swap deal between the college and the U.W. that required an Act of Congress was completed in 1954.
The Powell community then ratified a mill tax to establish the school’s first buildings. Northwest Community College was accredited by the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges in 1964. In 1968, the college tax base increased to include Park County.
The school changed its name to Northwest College in 1989. Some of the notable alumni from the school include Monte Olsen, a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives, and Chris Boucher, a professional basketball player for the Toronto Raptors.
Finding The Right School For Your Child
Wyoming’s educational history is deeply intertwined with the arrival of European expeditions and settlements. The early schools were in military forts and private homes in the mid-nineteenth century. While public education became popular in the 1880s, there’s limited documentation on the schools established during the territorial period.
Most of the schools on this list have more than a century’s worth of traditions, values, and academic excellence. Some, such as Sheridan High School, are top-rated schools perfect for your kid.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Brocreative/Shutterstock.com.