Weather the years, Atlantic City icon remains for over a century
Atlantic City – Built in 1893, the Atlantic City Mercantile has moved from seeing miners riding into town on their horses to get supplies, to today’s weekenders, who fly past on ATVs and dirt bikes. Ron Abernathy has owned and operated the Merc, as it is locally known, for nine years.
“I grew up near Lander on the Abernathy Ranch, which my family still operates,” Abernathy explains. “I always liked the Merc and the history it represents. When the opportunity came to buy the business it all came together.”
Lawrence Geissler built the 118-year-old building as a general store to serve the needs of area miners and ranchers. Geissler came to Wyoming at age 18 and worked at the Horsetrack Ranch on the Sweetwater for several years. Along with the Geissler store, he also had a ranch on Willow Creek, from which he ran cattle and horses in the Red Desert. After Geissler’s death his wife Emma ran a boarding establishment and café in the old store building. At her passing in 1929, the building was boarded up for several decades before it was re-opened as a bar and steakhouse in 1964.
“When the Merc was re-opened,” Abernathy says, “they brought the old bar up from the courthouse in Hudson. It was built in Pennsylvania by the Brunswick Balke-Collenuer Company and shipped out in 1906. They broke the mirror when moving it here to the Merc, and the first costumers flipped enough silver dollars on the bar to pay for it.”
The Mercantile is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as No. 212. It is the oldest maintained building in Atlantic City; the oldest, Hyde Hall, was built in 1868 and is now, unfortunately, a crumbling ruin. At one time, South Pass City had such a large population it would have been the capitol city of Wyoming.
Mining camps were notoriously unstable, as the majority male population rushed to other reported promising mineral lodes. Gradually, Atlantic City became a mill town with a more permanent population. Electricity finally reached the small town in 1958.
The Merc’s walls hold dozens of old photos of the heydays of Atlantic City and South Pass City. Abernathy and pervious owners have steadily collected the historical items that fill all available space. The wood stove used to heat the main room came out of officers’ quarters at Fort Stambaugh and many such show and tell stories exists within the iconic Atlantic City Mercantile.
“There is a lot of history in the Merc,” Abernathy notes. “There are the holes in the floor to the basement where they kept the rolls of wick for dynamite. The clerks would just pull the length the miner needed through the hole.
“The Mercantile was the Atlantic City post office for the entire time we were eligible to have one. We have about 25 people who live in Atlantic City year-round, with owners of summer cabins showing up sporadically in the summer.”
Today the Merc is one of three businesses in Atlantic City, sometimes labeled “the ghost town that won’t die.” The others are the Miner’s Grubstake Café and Miner’s Delight Bed and Breakfast. The neighboring town, South Pass City, is basically state-owned with very few private homes.
“I employ around eight people here,” Abernathy says. “The hardest thing is to get help to drive from Lander and Riverton. Some nights we’ll have 100 reservations for dinner, and that is not including the 100 lunches we did during the day.
“I would never touch the building as far as expanding the structure goes, because it is historical. I’m not sure what the future holds for the building or the business, as the structure isn’t going to stand up to commercial use a whole lot longer.”
Abernathy cooks his steaks over aspen wood harvested locally. Summer finds the Merc open six days a week and in the wintertime only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday by reservation only. Local customers come from Farson, Rock Springs, Green River, Lander and Riverton.
“The main bulk of summer customers are tourists,” Abernathy explains. “The tourist numbers were definitely down this summer, but the Merc is the Merc. The building brings them. Tourists will knock to come in when we’re not even open. It is not only a bar and restaurant, it’s a museum.”
Every October Abernathy continues tradition and hosts a roundup dinner for local ranchers. The tradition began as ranchers stopped in at the Merc while trailing cattle from the range to ranch headquarters in the autumn.
“The Merc has had its fair share of fame, local and beyond,” Abernathy says. “Robert Redford came here and sat at the bar, National Geographic ran an article about the Merc. It is just a great historical building. It is not necessarily the food that brings people, but the atmosphere of the place.”