Road Trip: The Small and Mighty Museums of Cheyenne Wells

The eastern plains of Colorado feature a variety of historical sites and museums worth a day trip from the Denver metropolitan area. Two historical gems are found in the small town of Cheyenne Wells − the Cheyenne County Jail Museum

and the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Museum. The first is housed in the former Cheyenne County Jail building. Designed by prominent Denver Architect, Robert S. Rooschlaub, the 1894 stucco-covered brick building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Inside the Cheyenne County Museum, visitors can experience the pioneer spirit of the eastern plains through the vintage clothing, and farming and ranching memorabilia on display.

One side of the impressive, though small-scale, Romanesque building housed the sheriff’s family and has displays of typical family furniture in a main room, bedroom, kitchen and back rooms (formerly children’s bedrooms). There, visitors can see implements of daily life on the prairie from a variety of decades.  The master bedroom features an unusual linoleum pattern made to look like carpet.

Kitchen displays in the former sheriff’s home.

The “business” side of the building features a tower with a window overlooking the cells that offers a view for miles. The intact and two ornate jail cells still have graffiti etched by inmates of long ago. A common room allowed inmates to spend time together outside of the confines of the jail cells. Today, the room also features shelves of artifacts from ranch life including a large display of barbed wire designs. A women’s cell was added on the north side of the building in 1937, which houses a collection of Native American artifacts and tools.

View from the sheriff’s upstairs office.

A peek into the two men’s jail cells.

Another view of the men’s cells from the main room.

Jail Keys

Donated Ku Klux Klan uniform

KKK exhibit description.

Fingerprinting kit on display

Carriage house behind the Cheyenne County (jail) Museum.

A block away from the jail site is the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Museum.

Cheyenne Wells had the first radio wave telephone system in the United States − commemorated within the museum. August 1946 ushered in the modern telephone era to a few rural farmers in the area. After demonstrating the success of this short-wave radio communication solution, it was then expanded to Utah, Idaho and Montana. Inside the well-restored brick telephone company building, visitors can see a progression of home telephones, a 1920’s era phone booth

and original switchboards and read the stories of rural telephone linemen.

While quiet today, this area was a significant crossroads in the past. Six miles north of Cheyenne Wells, the Santa Fe trail split, with one branch heading to Denver and the other heading to Santa Fe. Stage lines and pony express riders moved through and tracks of the trail are still visible in the nearby prairie.

A few other museums of note in the area include: Elbert County Museum, Bailey Saddleland Museum, Lincoln County Museum, Limon Heritage Museum & Railroad Park, Arriba Museum, Flager Hospital Museum & Hal Borland Room, Second Central School Museum, Kit Carson County Carousel & Museum, Old Town Museum, and Kit Carson Museum. As with all small-town attractions, check the open hours and visiting requirements before you go.

Written by Marian Robinson, September 2023