Monday, March 26, 2012

Granger’s “Church” Bar

From the series “Southwest Wyoming A Tough Place to Live”
(Originally printed in the Historical Issue of the Green River Star,
March 23, 1999)

Sometimes tracking down the origin of a place name is like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  A rainbow’s end is an illusion, and there is no hidden gold.  Such is the case with the so-called Church Bar in Granger.

Granger’s “Church” Bar in the background in this 1964 picture.

Built in 1924 by Evers Brothers as a schoolhouse, the building supports a bell tower but no steeple.  The bell has long since disappeared, as has the dedication plaque from the building’s north face.

But according to Deyon Tyler, owner of the building that houses the Dee-Mart Tavern, her grandmother donated land from her great-grandmother’s original homestead to erect the school.  Tyler’s father went to school in a much smaller building behind the tavern which was later turned into the teacherage.

Tyler and her brothers and sisters all attended school in the newer building.  It served all of Granger’s kindergarten through 12th grade students until the 1950s, when the school was moved to a former hotel.

According to Russ Tanner, a BLM archeologist who grew up in Granger, the building was abandoned for years after its demise as a school.  The LDS Church bought it, and Tanner said they held services there for a few years. 

He remembers the bell ringing to call people to services on Sunday, but according to Tyler no real services were ever held there and it was during the church’s tenure that the bell was broken and the bell and the dedication plaque disappeared.

More familiar to Granger children were the classes sponsored by various church groups and held wherever possible.

Tanner, from an LDS home, remembers attending catechism class with the Catholic nuns, just to “have something to do” during the long summers.  George Blasi recalls going to LDS children’s classes until he refused to donate the required dime for religious instruction, preferring to buy candy with it instead.

Small stucco building directly across the street from “Church” Bar in Granger, variously called “Reno’s” Bar or as in this 1973 photo, “Blasi” Bar.

Blasi’s father, a Catholic immigrant from Italy, owned Reno’s Bar, a smaller establishment across the street from the former school.  Reno allowed the nuns to conduct classes in booths at the bar, but they requested that the whiskey bottles and pool table be covered out of innocent children’s sight.

A man named Del Chapple, later manager of Little America, bought the former school building and turned the lower level into a bar. 

According to Tanner, Del Chapple had the establishment for only a year or two, and then Deyon and Martin Tyler reclaimed the building whose land had been donated by her grandmother.  With a lot of work, the couple carved a tavern and grocery store out of the lower level and living quarters above.

In the mid-1960s the Air Force moved to Granger to monitor low-level flights in simulated Viet Nam bombing raids.

Blasi remembers the huge planes flying low overhead as he swam in the Black’s Fork.  The Air Force set up houses and equipment, and parked up to sixty silver rail cars with the blue Air Force emblem on the tracks.  There are conflicting accounts, but most agree it was the Air Force that code-named the former school “the church,” probably for its empty bell tower the resembles a church’s steeple.

Tyler said one night as she was upstairs tending to her grandson and watching TV she heard, “Oh, hell, you hit the church.”

She went to tell the colonel who was bartending for her what she had heard coming from her television, and he ran out of the bar to get the Air Force radio towers higher then the old school building to prevent future transmissions being broadcast over people’s television sets.

Others say the name is older than the present bar, having transferred from an earlier bar and motel in Granger, and still others say it was the colonel himself who named it his “church,” his “sanctuary.”

Granger has had churches of several denominations, and still does, but one thing all agree on:  The name “Church Bar” has nothing to do with an actual church’s occupation of the building.


Abbie Taylor said...

This is interesting. When we moved to Wyoming, I was twelve, and at that time, children weren't allowed in bars at all. This was a constant source of disappointment to me because I wanted to sit in a bar, listen to the jukebox, and drink just like my daddy. As an adult, bars have lost their appeal. I guess that's because they're not forbidden fruit.

Morgan Mandel said...

Love hearing about the history of a town!

Morgan Mandel

Alethea Williams said...

Thank you, Abbie! Thank you, Morgan, for the comment, and all you have done for writers!