Settlement Planning and Morphology in Wyoming

The observation of the towns’ layouts, or “morphology” in the state of Wyoming, U.S., shows
many differences among various settlements, as well as many similarities. This essay will focus on the
explanation, instead of mere description, of these layouts. It will answer the following questions: Why
are those settlements located at where they are? How did they develop? What roles did different
civilian, business, and governmental facilities play in their development?
A General Discussion of Wyoming’s Railroads: Lines and History
First, according to the observation and diagrams, many towns and cities are connected by
railroads. Generally, the railroads in Wyoming, geographically, could be viewed as a network with
three vertical lines and one horizontal line. The horizontal one runs from Pine Bluffs, near the border
of Nebraska to the east, through state capital Cheyenne, all the way to Granger, where the line
branches into two: one stretches into Utah, another into Idaho. As for the vertical ones, all three
branch out from the same railroad and all end into Montana. Interestingly, all these railroad lines only
serve the Eastern and Southern part of the state, while the vast Northwestern part is not connected. I
believe it is because that part of Wyoming, around the Gannett Peak and beyond, is more rocky and
rough, with no significant early settlements (the Southern line, on the other hand, directly leads to Salt
Lake City), and does not possess ideal passes that railroads could run through. This lack of railroads,
however, also halts the development there, further reducing the likelihood of construction of
transportation other than necessary highways there.
Now I will provide a brief introduction of the railroad history and its current situation in
Wyoming. Though such information is, to be honest, quite difficult to find on Internet, there are
relating graphs and maps in AP US History textbook. The most important Southern line follows the
route of Mormon Trail and Oregon Trail through South Pass, which today is near the town of Green
River; later, the southern line became part of the Transcontinental Railroad, whose service, in
Wyoming, Nebraska and Utah, was run by the Union Pacific Railroad until now. The vertical lines
were built in late 19th century, including the Cheyenne and Northern Railroad.
Why are not Railroads Important Components in Town Planning?
Though railroads are significant and have a sophisticated net (at least in half of the state), it is
observed that though later settlements (since early ones such as Fort Casper — today’s Casper —
determined where the transportation passages and railroad run through) tend to be built, and
population to be concentrated, along the railroad lines, the railroads do not become central in the town
planning, but being marginalized, always clearly representing the border of the settlement. It is clear
that in almost none of the towns charted does the railroad cross densely populated neighborhoods, and
not a single well-constructed railroad station is to be observed. This is actually a quite interesting
discovery for me, because in major cities railroad stations are likely to be the center of a
neighborhood, if not an entire metropolitan area.
Such situation is, reasonably, the result of the characteristics of Wyoming railroad system.
The railroads in this state are almost entirely focused on transporting goods instead of passengers.
Among some of the most dominant railroad service providers in this region, there are Genesee &
Wyoming Inc. and Bighorn Divide & Wyoming RR, and both are companies who services
overwhelmingly include “truck to rail and rail to truck transloading” and offering “locomotives to
move rail cars”, not moving people. Such situation would only be more serious, as these companies
are purchasing other railroads in this region that do not function as well. For example, the Dakota,
Minnesota and Eastern Railroad, which runs a short line in Eastern Wyoming, just sold all its tracks to
the west of Tracy, MN to Genesee & Wyoming mentioned above in 2014. Since few passengers came
to the towns via railroad, there is no need for a multi-functional modern station (an example would be
Central Station, New York City) to serve them, and no shops or entertainment would choose to locate
around the railroad, since no passengers would be arriving and consuming their goods. Furthermore,
most rail cars running on the lines are freight, and most of the town’s industries (if there are such
facilities in the town at all) are always right next to the railroad, causing noise and pollution,
undermining residents’ will live nearby.
Highways of Wyoming and Their Role in Towns
Compared to railroads, the highways and interstates in Wyoming are more completed and
convenient, since almost all towns, even those in the mountains of Northwest, are connected to it.
Thus, the highways within towns are very likely to be going through the neighborhoods, and if there is
a crossed junction of two highways or interstates, a shop and commerce zone is always at its center,
serving as the foci of social life and entertainment.
“Facilities for Highway” Zones and Two Patterns of Them
In most of the towns, or cities that I observe, there usually exist a special zone that is nearly
completely reserved for the drivers on highway, who might include travelers, truck drivers or
hitchhikers. Such a zone most likely would include a gas station (which might be the most vital utility
here), a fast food restaurant and, in some cases, a motel or an inn. This zone follows two patterns of
location: One at the margin of a town (Thermopolis, Medicine Bow, Wright), which might be
focusing on the passengers who enter or leave the city more than the residents of it; another is at the
center of a town (Shoshoni). In these rare cases usually a busy junction exists, following which would
lead us to other major settlements (In the case of Shoshoni, to its north is Thermopolis, east Casper,
and southwest Riverton); on the other hand, if one town lies on only one “busy” highway, the gas
stations and motels are likely to follow the first pattern, since locating them at the town center would
only lead to higher costs due to land price while not increasing the potential profits by controlling a
significant source of vehicles. A good example is Thermopolis, to whose south is Shoshoni and north
Worland (in a relatively fertile valley and one of the narrow long agricultural areas in Wyoming),
while state highway 120, intersecting the north-south Highway 20, only leads to sparsely settled
Shop and Commerce Zone
Shop and Commerce Zone, whose functions in the relatively small towns and cities of
Wyoming resemble the ones of CBDs in big cities. A Shop and Commerce zone refers to street-side
shops, large chained shopping malls, department stores, entertainment utilities (theatres) and
governmental departments (municipal judge).
Such a zone always locate along the major streets of a town or at the junction of two. And if
the residential areas of a town are separated into two distinctively different ones — with one of
formal, permanent, well-designed neighborhoods and the other of informal, scattered, and in some
cases temporary constructions — then the shop and commerce zone always locate in the former,
because the residents in those neighborhoods have greater purchasing power. Many of these zones
also occupy lands adjacent to highway facilities; this situation is particularly significant in smaller
settlements, because the small population does not need a high concentration of shops or
entertainments with various functions; instead, a small parlor with a cafe could satisfy both locals and
travelers, while the small size of these towns make it easy for residents to go to such a place (at the
margin of the town) in a short period of time, thus minimizing the cost and not cutting customer
Another worth noting feature of the shop and commerce zone is that in larger towns
(Thermopolis), there exist two separate shop and commerce zones. One is which is mentioned above,
another is represented by large chain department stores or warehouse-like shopping malls, located
near highways or major transportation lines and equipped with vast car parking lots. They could
efficiently serve both residents and, more significant, passengers who drive by. Such a model also
applies to Fremont (a city significantly larger than any settlements, and reasonably as large as
Cheyenne, in Wyoming), with downtown Fremont and its one- or two-story shops and businesses on
both sides of Fremont Blvd and other main streets, as well as Fry’s and Costco, or Walmart , which
are near the 680.
Religious Institutions and Churches: Their Locations
Not all observed towns have churches or other religious institutions, and when they do, these
are most likely to be found on the edge of residential areas. This, as I previously hypothesized, might
be the effect of secularization; however, now I realize that this theory, though correct, is not complete.
The first factor is, of course, population: a town with significant residents and thus a central role on
the area nearby has a higher demand for religious services than small settlements. A second factor is
the town’s early role and location, some of these towns only served as a passing station of railroad
with few residents at its beginning point, and some of these towns are neighboring major cities in the
region, whose churches could be shared, thus requiring no churches of their own. However, though
secularization could to some degree explain the geographically marginalized situation of church
institutions (which suggests an equally marginalized role in society), the natural development of
towns is at least as critical. In an emerging community, a church would have been built by the major
road (due to the convenience), with a cluster of houses around it, at this moment, the church remains
in only a short distance from each and every residence, but as the town grows, more and more houses
were constructed and they reasonably located with the existing neighborhood, thus on the same side of
road, resulting in longer and longer distance between the church and center of the town. As the
commercial zone shifts as the town grows, it is unlikely for a church to move, thus making it always
on the border of a town.
From my observation, it is also easy to see the dominance of Latter Day Saints (or, in other
words, Mormonism) in this state, as well as segregation (in its geographic instead of historical sense).
Take Thermopolis as an example: There are three churches in this city: one LDS, one Baptist, and one
Lutheran. The LDS is surrounded by residences, while the other two are on the edge of
neighborhoods. Due to this distribution, newcomers would naturally choose to live near their own
religious institutions with the other residents of the same faith, thus leading to segregated
neighborhoods characterized by beliefs.
Different Residential Areas in Various Towns and Cities
Residences are the most vital and the largest component of a settlement, and most of the
residences in the towns observed are modeled similarly, with houses of one, or sometimes two,
stories. However, some towns have two or even more “residential areas” with very distinguishable
styles, and this situation varies according to the size and population of a town. In most of the smallest
towns (Wamsutter, Medicine Bow) there are no such differences, because no significant income gaps
and most of their citizens hold the same occupations such as farmers or miners. In bigger towns,
which tend to be located at the junction of highways (Kaycee, Wright), there are sometimes a second
residential zone, filled by houses that are smaller, more scattered, or even temporary: these zones
might include old house car cmaps or small independent houses without gardens or lanes or garages.
The situation might be the result of inward population movement, as some residents of smaller towns
would come to these places for more opportunities, while not being able to afford a house at town
center are forced to live on the rim, and these medium-sized towns are also ideal places for travellers
(some of who drive house cars) to rest, leading to the formation of house cars parking lot or other
clusters of such temporary residences. Interestingly, in some of the most important cities of this
region, there are not noticeable “informal residential zones”, I personally infer that much of the
potential population is scattered to nearby satellite townships, where land price is lower (which allows
them to purchase decent residences) and resources of neighboring cities are easily accessible,
Education and Recreation in Towns and Cities.
“Education and Recreation” here refers to schools, parks, museums and sports facilities, but
excluding national parks or other recreational resorts built due to the existence of a certain specific
natural scenarios whose locations are beyond city planning.
As for schools, most of them are located at the outskirts of towns, especially high schools; it
is easy to be explained since a standard high school, equipped with a playground and tracks and
several other constructions, would occupy lands that might be able to hold two or three blocks in those
towns and locating it at town center makes it difficult to build more houses for a growing population.


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