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This Wilson subdivision has unassuming homes built in the 1980s and a resident elk herd.
By Mark Huffman • Photograph by Tuck Fauntleroy
For more than seven decades after the Schofield family filed with the federal government to claim it, their land on the south side of Wilson had no use save to grow hay and run cows. But in the early 1970s, Jackson businessman Robert Russell approached the last of the Schofields with a proposition: Was he ready to sell?
Russell saw the land as a place to be developed as housing. For an aging Howard Schofield, the last of his pioneer family in the area, the answer was obvious. “I had met him and knew he was kind of broke, and that he was getting up in age,” says Russell, now 89 and living in Helena, Montana. Russell recalled Schofield, who died in 1981, as an old fellow “in bib overalls and rubber boots … the kind of guy who went to the Stagecoach on Sunday to watch people dance.”
“I asked him to sell, and he said, ‘Yeah,’ ” Russell says. “And, he liked the idea of having it named after him.”
In an area known for colorful characters, Schofield stood out. He went to the Wilson Market and later Hungry Jack’s General Store and bought butcher scraps so he could feed the ravens and magpies. He lived for fifty years in a house just east of the Wilson Post Office, in his last years with a dog named Soup, an estimated 18 cats, and two skunks that made a home under his shed.
“It was quite slow starting.”
[ Robert Russell, developer ]
Schofield was born in Park City, Utah, in 1900, one of four brothers and two sisters. The family arrived in Wilson by horse-drawn wagon in 1902.
The Schofield Patent was one of two 160-acre homesteads the family started with, though they eventually owned about 1,100 acres around Wilson. In 1916, Schofield and his brothers bought a lumber mill that they moved from Cache Creek to near the base of Trail Creek. They were proud that they picked trees to cut and didn’t clear cut. Twice over the decades their mill burned down, and they finally quit in the mid-1950s.
By 1977, the year after his brother and housemate, Bill, died, Schofield told a Jackson Hole Guide reporter that “I’m the last of the Mohicans.”
Russell had first visited Jackson Hole just before World War II, sent with his brothers by their mother to experience some ranch life. He served in the Army Air Corps late in the war and kept returning to Jackson, eventually abandoning a high-finance job in New York City in the late 1960s and moving here to live in what’s now Ely Springs. With partners, he ran the Jackson Hole Racquet Club, now The Aspens, and also the local cable television company.
Sometime before the Schofield Patent subdivision idea came to him, Russell was talking to a friend and “she was complaining that there was no inexpensive property for locals,” he says. Russell “had met Howard Schofield a long time before” and was inspired to approach him.
The deal was for $500,000, Russell recalls. Lewis Robinson, a partner of Russell’s in several businesses, says that “it was just a raw piece of land.” The acreage was subdivided into thirty-three lots in 1973, with meandering roads named Shoshone, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, and Dakota. The lots range from just over two acres to about seven; twenty-six acres in two pieces were left as open space. Russell remembers that he did the county’s first environmental study for a subdivision.
Howard Schofield lived for fifty years in a house just east of the Wilson Post Office, in his last years with a dog named Soup, an estimated 18 cats, and two skunks that made a home under his shed.
During the first sales effort, you could buy a lot, one ad said, at prices “from $22,000, 10 percent down, and excellent terms.” Jackson real estate agent Bland Hoke made many of the original sales. “We tried to set the prices as low as possible and provided terms,” Russell says. “We asked 10 percent down and often took a note for that. The original owners were all local people.”
He also wrote rules to keep the place nice, including a covenant that banned what was apparently a concern at the time: You couldn’t buy a lot and put a trailer on it. “We didn’t want to let that happen,” Russell says.
Despite good prices and being close to “downtown” Wilson—just south of the Hardeman property that’s now home to the Teton Raptor Center—“It was quite slow starting,” Russell says. Reynolds Pomeroy, a founder of Westbank Anglers and now an agent at Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, the local Christie’s affiliate, was in the second wave of Schofield owners. In a month in 1986, he started the fishing business, bought a 1,800-square-foot house on three acres in Schofield, and married Bettie Bair. The owner-built house they bought—“It didn’t have a square room or a flat floor,” he says—has grown to about 3,000 square feet. Bettie is still his wife.
Pomeroy wasn’t initially impressed with the house. However, Bettie didn’t want the usual resort lifestyle: “She said, ‘We’re not renting with roommates,’ ” he says. The couple made a “lowball” offer of $115,000, and got the house and land. They thought it seemed like a big investment. It turned out to be a wise one. “If we hadn’t bought then,” Pomeroy says, “we might have been living in Idaho.”
Thirty-two of Schofield’s thirty-three lots have been developed. Many of the original 1970s and 1980s homes remain, and are “relatively modest,” Pomeroy says. Resales aren’t common, but when they occur, the prices show that people like the area. “A recent sale was an older home—modest, but nice—from the mid-eighties, which sold for a million-five,” he says. Another recently changed hands “for just under three mill.”
Pomeroy expects that future sales are more and more likely to be “scrappers,” sales to people who like the location and the neighborhood, but not the existing house. There’s one big new house being built, with five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a two-bedroom guesthouse, and a barn. During construction, the county estimated its value at $3.4 million. Despite the changes, Schofield “is still a pretty vibrant community,” Pomeroy says. “We’re all known to each other.”
Other advantages of Schofield Patent include that it’s close to the center of Wilson but essentially on a dead end, reached off Wenzel Lane, and it also has a local elk herd and “more moose now than when I got here,” Pomeroy says. The area has retained some old Jackson Hole character—neighboring spaces have cabins and yurts. When Pomeroy first looked at what was to become his house here, his reaction was that “there was nothing much taller than a blade of grass. I thought, ‘Who would want to live here?’ Thirty years later, here I sit.”
It wouldn’t be a neighborhood without some crazy history, and Schofield has a little:
– In April 1981, a woman who lived in a house here with her daughter told police that she’d had an argument with her boyfriend, Larry Krambeer, who had threatened to burn down her place. She loaded up her daughter and went to Boise, Idaho. A few days later, she received a call from thirty-eight-year-old Krambeer, who told her he had kept his promise and torched the place. A couple hours later, he turned himself in. Krambeer was sentenced to serve two to five years in the penitentiary.
– In 1977, the Schofield homeowners’ association went to court to stop a resident, Mo Strandemo, from operating a business—splitting and selling firewood on his property. Strandemo, owner of Mo’s Bike Shop and known as a skier, resisted but lost. Within weeks he was listing his log home at $89,500—a deal, he said. Strandemo moved away and finally sold the house at an even lower price.