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The Carey Block



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The Carey Block in Greybull is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places as locally significant under Criteria A and C. The building represents the transformation of downtown Greybull during the 1916 building boom at the beginning of the major oil development period in the Big Horn Basin and is significant under the themes of Community Planning and Development and Commerce. The one-story wing completed in 1933 to house an automobile dealership and repair shop represents Greybull’s location on the Yellowstone Highway and the tourist travel component of the town’s economy, and consequently the evolving commerce of Greybull. The Carey Block brought the 1910s Commercial Style of architecture to Greybull and is eligible under Criterion C in the area of architecture. The multi-use masonry commercial block represents the more sophisticated versions of this building type erected in Wyoming towns and cities during the 1910s.

The Carey Block occupies the northwest corner of the main intersection in Greybull, Wyoming at Greybull Avenue and North Sixth Street. The original two-story portion of the Carey Block is 75 feet by 80 feet; a parapet wall encloses its nearly flat roof. The reinforced-concrete building has brick-clad piers that articulate the storefront areas, establish window bays on the second story, and carry a cornice band at the window head level. A prominent projecting sheet-metal cornice emphasizes the parapet wall. A one-story wing that extends from the north end of the building maintains the architectural vocabulary of the main block.

The Carey Block, with its large footprint and imposing two-story height is a prominent visual component of the central business district of Greybull. This area extends three blocks, from Fourth to Seventh Streets along Greybull Avenue. The buildings in the business district are one- and two-story commercial buildings, nearly all of which were built by 1925. The two street façades of the Carey Building edge the sidewalk. The west wall of the building is visible above an adjacent one-story wing and the second story of the north wall is also exposed. The one-story wing on the north side covers the remainder of the lot; it extends to an alley on the north and the lot line on the west. Two storefronts face Greybull Avenue adjacent to a corner commercial space. A storefront occupies the north end of the two-story block on North Sixth Street, adjacent to one in the one-story wing.

The period of significance for this property is from 1916, when the commercial block was erected, through 1939. By that time, the heyday of the oil production era had passed and the bustle of the downtown commercial district related to that energy boom period had diminished, though the Yellowstone Highway continued to bring travelers through Greybull. The architectural significance of the Carey Block extended well beyond its year of construction. In a boom and bust townscape, the most up-to-date building in the last boom period remains a touchstone for architectural modernity until it is eclipsed by new construction. In the case of Greybull, the new architecture introduced by the federal relief projects during the mid-1930s clearly signaled the beginning of the next era of building. The updated functions the new buildings housed – the post office and school – and the modernized civic infrastructure also represent the next phase of community planning and development. Consequently, these federal relief projects, from both historical and architectural perspectives, close the period of significance.

Criterion A. The Carey Block represents the transformation of Greybull during the 1916 building boom at the beginning of the oil production heyday in the Big Horn Basin. It is significant under the themes of Community Planning and Development and Commerce. The Carey Block was the most prominent of the ten buildings erected in the business district in 1916, a critical period in the development of Greybull. Its corner location with two long street façades and two-story height contribute to its visual prominence and association with that period. The multi-purpose building initially housed several of the commercial needs in the booming town: a bank, hotel rooms, professional offices, and retail space. The building expresses the development of Greybull during the heady first period of the oil boom, its role as the industrial center of the oil industry in the Big Horn Basin, and local hopes for a long-lasting commercial prosperity.

During the post oil boom era, Joe Carey profited from two other aspects of the town’s commerce, the illicit liquor business during Prohibition and the automobile sales and service industry. The speakeasy in the basement, the only finished space on that level of the building, was an extension of his rumrunning operation. The local demand for autos and their servicing was supplemented by travelers on the Yellowstone Highway. Carey and his partner, James Beale, built a modern automobile dealership and service facility as a wing on the building in 1933 near the town’s main commercial intersection and on the Yellowstone Highway. The Carey Block property conveys the changing nature of the downtown business district in Greybull and commerce during the oil boom period of the late 1910s, as well as the subsequent period when the economy was more diversified.

Criterion C. The Carey Block brought the Commercial Style of architecture popular during the early twentieth century to Greybull and is eligible under Criterion C in the area of Architecture. The multi-use corner building contrasts significantly with most of the other commercial buildings in scale and architectural presence. Most of the more substantial, yet still small, masonry commercial buildings erected in Greybull prior to 1916 were constructed of local sandstone. The Carey Block represents the use of more modern building construction – a reinforced-concrete frame and brick enclosing walls. By the time that a fire destroyed all of the wood-framed commercial buildings west of the Carey Block in 1922, the oil boom had peaked and most of the buildings were not replaced. This event resulted in the Carey Block standing nearly alone on its side of the street for a number of years, a condition that further emphasized its scale and architectural presence.

The Carey Block expresses a modernity in architectural expression based on the emphasis of form and very limited use of ornament, an idiom that was as appropriate for an oil boom town in a somewhat remote area of Wyoming as it was elsewhere. The reinforced concrete structure of the building, largely hidden from view, was an additional component of the modernity of the building. The Commercial Style represented a more sophisticated version of the masonry commercial block, and was more likely to be designed by an architect, though the designer of the Carey Block is unidentified. Red face brick clads the exterior walls of the building; a recessed entrance at the corner was anchored by the corner brick pier. Strong rhythms created by brick piers and window bays combined with references to classical forms in the cornice produced a handsome and modern presence for the building. Fabric awnings at the windows unified the entire property during the first half of the twentieth century. The brick automobile dealership wing maintained the architectural vocabulary of the commercial block.

The Carey Block combines architectural expression with multiple commercial uses as a representation of Greybull’s oil boom period and commerce throughout a twenty-three year period. As the largest building with a prominent corner location, the architectural presence of the Carey Block conveys the commercial needs and hopes for prosperity of the 1916 building boom. Architectural style, scale, materials, and a mixed-use program allow the physical presence of this property to convey a sense of modernization and high-style in a small town coming into its own during a boom period of the type that has been common throughout Wyoming’s history. The automobile-related wing conveys another sector of Greybull’s economy – the rise of the automobile and tourist travel. The period of significance, 1916 to 1939, encompasses the heyday of Greybull’s central business district related to the oil boom and the period when the Carey Block was the most high-style building in Greybull.

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Date Added to Register:
Friday, December 18, 2009
Big Horn County
Smithsonian Number:


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