Ranola Miller’s favorite part of the 110-year-old mansion is the attic.
The sunny nook along the south wall would have made a perfect bedroom as a child, or a reading spot with a big, comfy chair, she mused last week at the Historic Bishop Home, where she started as the house manager in July.
“I could sit here forever,” she said, looking out the window over Second Street. “This would have been my bedroom.”
Historically, the attic was the bedroom for three boys as well as a playroom for their six sisters. Miller pointed to pencil doodles that the Bishop children scrawled on the attic wall a century ago. A boy in a hat walking a pet on a leash stands next to a girl in dress and hat. The figures, labeled Harold and Lucile, appear under round cursive words reading “Lucile Bishop loves Harold.”
Lucile was the youngest of the nine Bishop children, and lived in the house from the time she was born in 1908 until she died in 1997. She became an accomplished pianist and music teacher at local schools, Miller recounted.
A diary-like script inside the attic from May 4, 1914, gives Miller chills. Marvin Bishop Jr. mentioned his upcoming high school graduation.
“What will I be doing one year from now?” he wrote.
World War I began a few months later, and Marvin would go to fight in the war before becoming a lawyer in Cheyenne, Miller said. She rattled off dates and life stories of Marvin and Leona Bishop along with the children they raised in the home.
The house was the first multi-story building in Casper, the first brick building and the first residence with running water and electricity. Only 14 percent of houses in country had hot running water from the bath, but the Bishops had it — even in the middle of Wyoming, Miller said.
As the house’s second permanent manager, Miller gives tours, plans events and promotes the local museum on the National Register of Historic Places. But many people don’t know the old Casper family home is a museum they can visit to connect with the past.
“It’s such an important historical part of Casper,” Miller said. “And so I feel like my job, for at least this first year, is to get Casper people to be aware of the home and to support the home, and for schools to bring their kids here when they’re studying Casper history in the third grade.”
Connecting with history
Marvin and Leona Bishop had the house built in 1907 after making their fortune in sheep ranching along with payments from two railroad lines through the land. The business was Wyoming’s largest wool-producer and at one time comprised sixteen percent of the wool out of the Wyoming, Miller said. The house is filled with the photos and belongings of the family that fascinate Miller.
“Names and dates are all good,” Miller said. “But I like to know the backstory.”
The home marks the turning point in Casper from a mining town to an urban city, she said. But even everyday items bear stories about the past. She pointed to trunks in the attic, noting a round, camel-back topped style that the wealthy carried. Other luggage couldn’t be stacked on top, so they’d be the first off the boat or train, Miller said. It also distinguished upper society at a time when class was very important, she said.
A restoration of the attic completed in April reveals and preserves history as well. The fir wood floors have been sanded by hand, and damage to the walls from a storm repaired. Renovators also left bare squares to show the lath and plaster under the paint, the way walls were built before drywall.
The children’s drawings in the attic were exposed with an acid treatment that took off a newer coat of paint but left the pencil marks intact. Many of the Bishop children’s toys remain, from a kitchen sets and dolls to trucks and a rocking horse.
Visitors can touch sheep wool from the family’s herds in bags next to wool yarn showing the finished product. They can also see clothing, kitchen implements, tea cups and furniture dating back more than 100 years.
For sale on a foyer table are gloves with exposed fingertips made by a local knitting group that meets weekly at the house. Students visiting the house call them cell phone gloves. But Miller tells them that the patterns are from World War I and how knitters back then sent gloves to the troops overseas as part of the civilian war effort.
The Historic Bishop Home and all its contents are ways newer generations can connect with history and think about the changes, Miller said. Through a long process that began in 2008, the home has become a public resource.
Susan Bishop, granddaughter of the original owners, is excited for Miller’s contributions to her family’s historic house, which is now owned by Bishop’s Cadoma Foundation.
“We have hopes she’ll connect to the community,” she said. “It’s time the community embraces the Bishop House as an integral part of the history of Casper.”
Miller was in labor with her fourth child in 1996 when she first encountered the Bishop Home. The baby was in a breech position, so she was instructed to walk near the hospital to keep labor going. She sat down on the Bishop House steps to rest during contractions. The elderly Lucile Bishop still lived in the home at the time.
More than two decades later, Miller felt an instant connection with her own past and family when she came to work at the house, she said.
“I get to combine the charity and event planning that I’ve always done my whole life, and my education and working with children, and then my love for history,” she said. “I get to combine all of those things in one job, so it’s perfect.”
Miller studied elementary education with a minor in theater and dance at University of Wyoming after attending Dean Morgan Junior High and Kelly Walsh High schools. In college, she worked as a tour guide at the Historic Ivinson Mansion in Laramie and loved it, she said. She’s taught children as the education tech for Fort Caspar Museum and ran a theater program at Verda James Elementary School for 14 years.
Miller is also a fan of history and books. Her favorite is “Gone with the Wind.”
But it was just a coincidence when she was asked to perform a Southern belle character to kick off this year’s Historic Bishop Home’s tea season with an interactive murder mystery, “Gone with the Breeze.” The Texas native will even have a chance to pull out her southern accent, she said.
The first new event she’s planned is the “Historic Bishop Home Warming: A 1907 Halloween” featuring Halloween history, parlor games and ghost stories that she’ll tell in the attic.
She’s also organizing an open house event in December to show off the home’s Victorian-style holiday décor, including three Christmas trees. She’s also considering a 1920s-themed fundraiser to coincide with an exhibit featuring the fashions of the Bishop daughters.
It’s not that she believes in ghosts, but Miller always greets the members of the Bishop family while turning on lights and opening their curtains in the morning. It’s a way to feel connected to the memories and care for the home as she would her own, she said.
“When guests come, I want them to feel like they’re stepping back in time, that they’re actually just walking through someone’s house and feeling at home there — feeling the warmth of what a family of nine children would have felt like,” Miller said. “I always think if the walls could talk, what incredible stories they would have to tell.”