John Dodge

This exclusive subdivision has humble beginnings.

By Mark Huffman ∙ Photograph by Tuck Fauntleroy

When valley rancher Earl Hardeman wanted to expand his operation in the 1970s, he looked at the land along the west bank of the Snake River that is now the John Dodge subdivision. It was about 800 acres, dry and scrubby except in the years when high water flooded it. In country where the land is harsh and getting anything out of it unlikely, Hardeman, a descendant of homesteaders, didn’t want any part of this area, recalls longtime Jackson Hole real estate agent and developer Bland Hoke.

As Hoke remembers, Hardeman pronounced the John Dodge area “the craziest piece of property I’ve ever seen.” Hoke says, “It had no value to him.” But Hoke himself saw value. In the 1970s he was selling condos at the Racquet Club, now The Aspens, across Highway 390, and thought John Dodge, named after its original homesteader (see sidebar), looked like a nice place for a subdivision. It was near Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and bordered the Snake River. A dike built along the river by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s kept high water (in all but the highest years) at bay.

In the late 1970s, Hoke approached Dodge’s nephew, Hunter Scott, a Fresno, California, advertising man who used to spend time each summer on his uncle’s land with his wife. Scott had, after a long battle about the title, inherited the land from his uncle. Dodge had done little with his acreage beyond what the Homesteading Act required. He built a small cabin and planted some grass for a half-dozen cattle and as many horses. (By the time Scott spent time each summer here, the log cabin was in disrepair, so he and his wife stayed in a trailer on the land.)

Hoke saw the little work Dodge put into the land as an opportunity. “I knew it was a unique piece of land; it was totally untouched,” he says. From selling Racquet Club units he knew that “people liked their condos, but they wanted some land. … I had a good sense there was a demand for it.” It was the first big-lot subdivision of its type in Jackson Hole.

In 1980, when Hoke was selling lots for $150,000, a prospective buyer told him, “Bland, you’re crazy. You’ll never get that.”

At first Scott didn’t want to sell, though. He didn’t even want to talk. But an intermediary finally got Hoke in Scott’s door, and Scott admitted that “it’s stupid I have all this land.” He finally decided to let it go, but only bit by bit. “He would never sell more than forty acres to me” at a time, Hoke remembers. Hoke bought the first forty and divided them into 6 six-acre lots in 1978. The same thing happened to the second forty acres two years later. (Hoke himself built a house in these second forty acres; he and his wife still live in that house.) The lots sold for $150,000. The biggest bit was the fifth parcel, officially John Dodge 5th Filing, which consisted of 137 acres that Hoke divided into sixty lots. Hoke eventually bought about 600 of Dodge’s 800 acres, from which he created about one hundred lots that ranged from three acres to six. The last parcel was subdivided in the early 1990s. Two other developers took smaller parts of the ranch and created their own subdivisions.

Scott made it easy for Hoke to buy his land. His terms were 10 percent down and a signature on a thirty-year note. “He was willing to wait for his money,” Hoke says, and “that allowed me to be able to do it.” Scott’s patience for payment wasn’t the only unorthodox aspect of this subdivision: His method was to talk out the deal and then tell Hoke, “You send me the money and I’ll send you a deed.”

Hoke walked the land—“you couldn’t get through a lot of it” because of the thick sage and brush and trees—and laid out the streets. He named the main street John Dodge Road and the rest after wildflowers and bushes: Goldeneye, Goatsbeard, Phlox, Foxglove, Steershead, Stonecrop, Prairiesmoke, and Yellow Bell. New at the time, each lot had an approved building envelope chosen to keep the development from looking crowded and also to preserve views. The development’s covenants banned fences. Although built to keep the area from flooding, the Snake River Dike along the subdivision’s eastern boundary is a nice place to bike and walk. Hoke had several accesses to it built for the use of property owners.

Hoke saw John Dodge as a neighborhood where people would live year-round, and he thinks there’s still some of that. But now you don’t see as many young kids, he says, and more of the houses are vacation homes. The area is much busier in summer than in winter, and there’s little turnover.

This past June, Kurt Harland, owner/broker at Brokers of Jackson Hole, the local Berkshire-Hathaway real estate affiliate, had the only John Dodge house listed on the market: a 5,500-square-foot house and guesthouse for $4.295 million. “There’s not much available out there,” Harland says.
“There’ll be something that goes on the market and then nothing for a long time. People tend to hang onto the [John Dodge] properties longer than not.” Harland agrees with Hoke that over the years more of the homes have become vacation places, but said it’s still a fine place to live. “I love the area, the proximity to Teton Village and to The Aspens. It’s kind of its own little hideaway,” he says. “I would love to raise my family there. It’s a great neighborhood, with plenty of privacy and limited traffic.”

Today there are few open lots, and a sale of a home here often means a rebuild because of sharply higher prices over the years. In 1980, when Hoke was selling lots for $150,000, a prospective buyer told him, “Bland, you’re crazy. You’ll never get that.” He recently sold that same buyer the same lot she looked at in 1980, albeit with a house, for $5.5 million. She plans to knock the house down and build anew.

John Dodge was the first big step in Hoke’s career, which later included many other development projects, including recently completed commercial space on Gregory Lane in west Jackson. With Scott’s easy financing terms, Hoke was able to buy the land and turn it around quickly for lot sales. He never had much money invested. He put in a lot of work, but says now that being the man who developed one of the valley’s more exclusive subdivisions was “all luck … being in the right place at the right time.” That and being in Jackson at the end of one era and the start of another, when land was available and deals informal. “You can’t do now what we did back then,” Hoke says.

The original john dodge

John Dodge homesteaded 800 acres of the west bank of the Snake River in 1902, when you paid a filing fee and promised to improve the land. He was the odd son of a wealthy Iowa family and had some kind of breakdown after going to Harvard. His kin sent him West. He was a “remittance man,” paid by his family to stay away.

In the valley, Dodge earned a reputation as an eccentric. He lived alone. He showed up when there was a horse race but always finished poorly, and rode broncs in the rodeo but was always thrown. He was known to stand outside naked in the winter and bathe from a bucket of well water. He paid kids to bring him squirrels for the coyote pups he adopted.

A neighbor, Lawrence Cheney, once passed by Dodge’s place and saw him behind a plow, reading a book as four mules wandered around plowing random, meandering furrows. Cheney pointed out that the mules—Hobo, Bobo, Brownie, and Jack—could use some direction. Dodge’s reply: “Oh, it all has to be plowed anyway, they’ll get it.” Dodge lived into his nineties, dying in 1958.

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