Grand Teton
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The Communities of Jackson Hole

A mass meeting is called for two o'clock Tuesday afternoon at the Jackson Club House to further discuss the subject of incorporating Jackson.... Ladies, as well as men, are requested to be present at this meeting let noone [sic] stay away.

Jackson's Hole Courier, May 7, 1914

Death and destruction came down the Gros Ventre River yesterday morning in a great wall of water that snuffed out six lives, wiped the town of Kelly off the map....

Jackson's Hole Courier, May 19, 1927

Jackson, Wyoming
Town of Jackson, 1907. William Trester, Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Between 1850 and 1900, thousands of small towns developed west of the Mississippi River, playing an essential role in westward expansion. Economics drove people to develop communities. Entrepreneurs built businesses such as inns or blacksmith shops along transportation routes to cater to traffic. Townspeople also formed communities around stores and post offices to provide goods and services to farmers, ranchers, and miners. Finally towns resulted from pure speculation. Federal laws, notably the Townsite Act of 1844 and its more restrictive successor of 1867, gave promoters the means to secure land, luring hordes of speculators west. [1]

Small western towns, particularly agricultural communities, shared a sameness noticed by most observers. Surveyors laid out townsites in the familiar block pattern, making minimal concessions to topographic reality. Architectural patterns were also similar. The false front store became the dominant architectural style for main street buildings. Residences varied according to income. Modest homes followed standard patterns, while prefabricated homes could be ordered through mail order houses such as Montgomery Wards. Affluent people built substantial homes that reflected their economic status. These houses are popularly known as "Victorian," a general architectural term for styles that flourished between 1860 and 1915. Multiple stories, elaborate ornamentation, and a variety of colors and surface textures characterized Victorian residential architecture. Their sameness reflected the quest of migrants to create the familiar in an unfamiliar, sometimes hostile environment. [2]

Western communities also shared several common institutions. Indeed, towns buffeted by the boom-and-bust cycles of mining and agriculture depended on these institutions for survival. Local newspapers were key for they helped define the self-image of a community and "created the illusion of a homogenous society." Just as important, town newspapers promoted unabashedly the communities they served, often with little regard for truth. A second institution was the general mercantile store, the main source of supplies. Not only could patrons buy staple items such as flour, salt, sugar, and coffee, they could obtain luxury items such as gold watch chains or china dolls. The general store served as a social center where people congregated to share news and gossip. They also assumed the role of banks, extending credit and, if the store had a safe, securing checks and other valuables of customers.

A hotel was another important component of a frontier town. However crude the accommodations, a hotel boosted the self-esteem of a community. Saloons were an important place for entertainment and socializing. Alcohol provided a cure, however false, for the isolation and boredom that typified so much of life on the frontier. Education assumed more importance as westward expansion progressed through the nineteenth century. Westward migration weakened traditional institutions such as the family church, apprentice system, and folk traditions. [3] Frontier schools helped fill that void. Spiritual life remained important, and as communities matured, devout citizens built churches. As towns developed, townspeople also established specialized businesses such as drugstores, restaurants, and hardware stores. The blacksmith was the most needed craftsman, shoeing horses and performing essential repairs on tools, machinery and vehicles.

In Jackson Hole, towns and villages evolved slowly with the gradual increase in population. The first communities were rural post offices, sometimes augmented by country schools, churches, or perhaps a small boarding house. Jackson Hole was able to support only three towns: Jackson, Wilson, and Kelly—four, if Moran is counted. Towns were a twentieth-century development in the valley. Prior to 1900, it remained a sparsely populated backwater, a mosaic of isolated homesteads clustered in the Flat Creek area, South Park, and the Buffalo Fork. As more post offices and schools emerged after 1900, settlers developed a sense of loyalty or identity to their locality rather than the town of Jackson or Jackson Hole. One settler recalled that "the valley was divided into three or four parts. There was Moran and Elk in the upper end, Grovont and Kelly in the middle, then in the lower part there was Jackson and Wilson, with Zenith and Cheney scattered around." [4]

Potential towns such as Marysvale and Grand Teton never progressed beyond wishful thinking. On March 25, 1892, the Postal Service authorized the valley's first post office, Marysvale. Located at the Fred White homestead north of Botcher Hill, the post office was named for White's wife, Mary. The Whites managed the post office until 1894, when they abandoned the "swamp ranch" for a more attractive homestead along the Snake River. William and Maggie Simpson took over the post office, which was renamed Jackson. In 1896, the Wyoming Tribune reported that promoters were staking out the city of Grand Teton, anticipating a population boom in the coming summer. The proposed townsite was located at the north end of Spring Gulch, one-half mile from the hot springs near East Gros Ventre Butte. The city of Grand Teton existed only in the newspaper article and imaginations of its promoters, for no lands were preempted nor a townsite staked out by surveyors. [5]

A small village evolved around the Jackson Post Office. Charles "Pap" Deloney opened a general store on the Simpson ranch, the first retail store of any kind in Jackson Hole. Deloney's consisted of the store, a barn for building materials, and a small storage cabin. Like most general mercantile stores, Deloney sold an amazing variety of goods; half of the store housed groceries and hardware while the other half displayed dry goods such as clothing and sewing machines. Glass, window and door frames, lumber, and farm machinery were kept in the barn. Around 1897, members of the Jackson Hole Gun Club built the Clubhouse, Jackson's first community building. A two-story rectangular frame building with a hipped roof, it served as a dance hall, courtroom, men's smoking room, gymnasium, and commercial building. Prior to 1900, Mary Anderson established what may have been the first hotel or boarding house in the valley near Antelope Gap or the wye. Mrs. Anderson became the postmaster of Jackson in 1900. The hotel was moved to the townsite of Jackson in 1901, where it became known as the Jackson Hotel. The seeds of the community were sown when Bill Simpson laid out the first town plat for Jackson in 1901. [6]

The Jackson Hole Gun Club was built in 1897. Known as the "Clubhouse," the gun club was the town's first community building and was used for a variety of social functions. Although modified, the building still stands on the Jackson Town Square. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Between 1901 and 1914, Jackson established itself as the valley's primary community. Citizens started the first town school in the Clubhouse in 1903, then built a log school in 1905. In the same year, Mormons constructed the town's first church, a brick building situated on the western fringe of the village. The bricks were manufactured at a kiln located near the wye, owned by two men named Parker and Mullen. Workers enclosed the Jackson Hotel in brick and added a two-story brick wing to the rear of the building. In 1906, Frank and Roy Van Vleck rolled into Jackson driving a wagon loaded with either potatoes or apples, depending upon which account is read. A sick horse prevented them from going on to Oregon. The brothers opened the Jackson Mercantile, selling their load of produce to raise capital. [7]

William Trester took the earliest known photograph of Jackson in 1907. From the east slope of East Gros Ventre Butte, his camera captured a sleepy frontier village on a sunny spring afternoon. The photograph shows a collection of buildings spread across the sagebrush flat. Recognizable structures include the Mormon Church, the Clubhouse, and the Jackson Hotel. Less recognizable are Tuttle and Lloyd's Saloon, Deloney's store, and Wort's livery barn. Willows reveal the course of Cache Creek east of the village. Before the Clubhouse is a large sage brush swale, rutted by two sets of wagon tracks. This eventually became the town square. [8]

Following the pattern of other frontier towns, more entrepreneurs started specialized businesses. Sometime after Trester's photograph, Dr. Luther F. Palmer constructed a two-story frame building on the southeast corner of the square, intending to use it as a residence and sanitarium. Convalescent homes were not uncommon in the West, as people with asthma and tuberculosis often relocated to the West for the dry desert air or mountain climate. In 1908, Palmer sold the building to Claude and Maud Reed, who converted it to Jackson's second hotel. Ma Reed's, later the Crabtree Inn, became a local landmark until 1952 when the Crabtrees sold it. [9]

In 1909, Jackson reached another milestone, when Douglas Rodeback published the first edition of the Jackson's Hole Courier. The paper gave the village an important voice in promotion, and articulated and helped define the community's self-image. [10] By this time, Jackson claimed a population of 200 people and had established itself as the commercial center of Jackson Hole. E. C. "Doc" Steele opened a drugstore, L. H. Zimmerman started a butcher shop in 1914, and Fred Lovejoy brought a touch of modernity by building a telephone exchange in 1905. [11]

saloon patrons at bar
The Rube Tuttle saloon was a popular gathering place in Jackson. Lined up at the bar are (left to right): S. L. Spicer, Rube Tuttle, Willard Miner Sr., T. Lloyd (behind bar), Walt Spicer, Frank La Shaw, Jack Grey, and Alva Simpson. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

In 1912, the Episcopal Church established a mission in Jackson. Members built a rest house in 1912-1913, which eventually included a gymnasium, library, and reading room. The Jackson school district built a two-story brick schoolhouse, which opened in 1914. A year later, on December 10, 1915, fire destroyed both the new brick school and the first log schoolhouse. The valley's first bank opened in August 1914. Located in a small brick building south of the Jackson Hotel, the Jackson State Bank marshaled $10,000 in capital, providing a local source of funding for community development. [12] In the spring of 1914, the citizens of Jackson began considering filing articles of incorporation for town government. Talk became reality, and the townspeople elected a mayor and town council in November 1914. [13]

In retrospect, it is apparent that Jackson enjoyed an advantage over its early potential rivals Wilson and Moran. Because of its central location between clusters of homesteads in South Park and the Flat Creek area, Jackson possessed a geographic advantage and established a more solid economic base than either Wilson or Moran. Most homesteads were situated east of the Snake River, which negated Wilson's prime location on the road over Teton Pass. At the north end of the valley Moran was far too isolated, even after the Reclamation Service developed the Ashton-Moran Road in 1910. Struthers Burt recalled that "as winter draws down in a frontier country the principal town becomes the focus of the community." To enable children to attend school, families often relocated to town from isolated ranches, joining unemployed ranch hands holed up in hotels and boarding houses. [14]

Between 1915 and the depression of 1929, Jackson experienced prosperity fueled by high prices for agricultural products and a population increase. More businesses located in the community and modern conveniences transformed the village to a twentieth-century town. In 1918, the Kemmerer Camera portrayed Jackson as a bustling little community consisting of a bank, a telephone exchange, a drugstore, the Elk Cigar Store, a billiard parlor, two hotels, and two general mercantile stores. [15]

Important modern improvements included the installation of electric power and water and sewer systems. In 1920, E. C. Benson constructed a water-powered plant at the mouth of the canyon on Flat Creek, north of Jackson. In the last week of January 1921, electricity from the plant illuminated Jackson for the first time. At least one resident expressed skepticism about the project. Bill Blackburn informed Benson that the electric plant would never work, since "there wasn't a hole in the wire for the electricity to run through." After Benson's plant illuminated the town, Blackburn was chagrined, but undaunted. He decided that if the electric company could make electricity go through solid wire, he could do it too. Blackburn bought cheap wire, secured a 12-volt auto light, and wired his cabin. He threw loose wire over a 120-volt power line tying wires together. The next day Blackburn confronted Benson with a consumer complaint: "Your juice is no good. It is too hot. It set my house on fire." By 1919, the town government had installed water and sewer lines. In 1916, St. John's Hospital was built with private subscriptions and Episcopal mission funds. [16]

The first edition of the Courier in 1921 listed the following businesses and services: the Jackson Mercantile—furniture and hardware; the Jackson Drug Company; Vincent the Tailor—Clothing; R. E. Miller's bank; the J. R. Jones Grocery; William Mercill's Grocery; Harry Wagner—Insurance; the Jackson Valley Telephone Company; the Jackson Billiard Hall; Fuller and Kent's Billiard Hall; the Picture Show, a movie theatre; the Jackson Laundry; the Jackson Leather Shop; Brown and Woods Blacksmith Shop; the two hotels; and the Spicer and Curtis Garage. A June issue listed additional businesses: Deloney's General Store; Charles Fox—Lumber; George Blair's taxidermy shop; the Jackson Meat Market; two barber shops, Mulherns and Fullers; and Wort's livery barn. [17]

Doctors were significant members of any community. In the absence of doctors, settlers relied on their own knowledge to treat injuries and sickness. Several pioneer women were midwives and known for their "doctoring" skills. They included Mary Wilson, Matilda Wilson, Mrs. H. M. Ely, Mrs. C. J. Allen, and Mrs. Sam Osborne. The valley may have had a physician prior to 1900. According to local tradition, a Dr. Woodburn practiced medicine in the valley in 1894, living in the Carnes cabin on Flat Creek. Others remembered a doctor named Reece or Reese. Dr. Luther F. Palmer was the first physician known to reside and practice medicine in the valley. Listed in the census of 1900; Palmer treated people during a diphtheria epidemic in 1902, and the first Courier reported that a Dr. Louis [sic] Palmer treated a patient for blood poisoning in January 1909. At Moran, the Reclamation Service employed several physicians during the construction of the Jackson Lake Dam. Horace Carncross served as resident physician at the JY Dude Ranch and later at the Bar BC. When present in the valley he also treated residents. [18]

In January 1913, a 24-year old doctor named Charles W. Huff set up a practice in Jackson. Huff had developed symptoms of tuberculosis and had been advised to locate in a mountain climate; he also learned that Jackson had no doctor at the time. He practiced medicine until his premature death in 1937, giving Jackson Hole people over 20 years of stable medical care. Aware of preventive medical techniques, Huff lobbied actively for water and sewer systems and was a driving force behind the construction of Jackson's first hospital in 1916. After his death, Dr. Don MacLeod replaced him. [19]

In 1915, Dr. C. S. Horel set up the first known dental practice in the valley. Initially he set up office in front of the local taxidermy shop, but later thought better of it and moved the office to his residence. Horel practiced part time. He homesteaded near Menor's Ferry, then later secured a job as a ranger with the Forest Service. At the end of 1914, A. C. McKahan set up a veterinary practice, working out of Wort's livery barn. [20]

In 1920, a local political caucus nominated an all-women's ticket to run for mayor and four town council seats. The editor of the Courier wrote "if elected this next Tuesday this capable women's ticket will place the city of Jackson in the limelight." On May 11, the voters elected the entire ticket, and they took office on June 7.

Election Results

Grace Miller
Fred Lovejoy
Town Council—2 year term
Rose Crabtree
Mae Deloney
William Mercill
Henry Crabtree
Town Council—1 year term
Genevieve Van Vleck
Faustina Haight
Maurice Williams
J. H. Baxter
women officeholders standing on porch
In 1920, the Town of Jackson elected the first all-female government in the country. Left to right: Councilwoman Mae Deloney, Councilwoman Rose Crabtree, Mayor Grace Miller, Council woman Faustina Haight, and Councilwoman Genevieve Van Vleck. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Jackson voters made history by electing the first all-female civic government in the United States. In addition, schoolteacher Pearl Williams served as town marshal for a year. In 1921, Mayor Grace Miller and one-year incumbents, Genevieve Van Vleck and Faustina Haight, were reelected. [21]

Public parks and events reflected civic pride and a sense of community. Several Jackson Hole pioneers conceived the idea of a rodeo in Jackson. Frontier Days; as it was named, became the valley's first local celebration. Sponsors built a grandstand in a field southwest of Jackson and held the event in 1912. Bell Flanders, a sister of the Worts, owned the land. She donated 45 acres to the town for Frontier Park in 1920. However, the most notable landmark in Jackson is Town Square, a picturesque park of cottonwoods, post-and-pole fence, boardwalks, monuments, and distinctive elk antler arches on each corner. In the beginning, the square was nothing more than a sagebrush-covered depression surrounded by dirt roads and buildings. In 1924, the town government planned to improve the square and fill material was to be hauled in to level the site. But not until 1931 did a citizens group improve the square. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth, citizens raised money for nursery plants and landscaping and named the improved square Washington Memorial Park. In 1941, the town announced plans to pave the streets around the square, eliminating the dust and mud problems. [22]

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004