Then and Now: Jackson Evolving

Today, Jackson is planned and zoned and thinking about future growth, but that wasn’t always the case.

Jackson Evolving

Today, Jackson is planned and zoned and thinking about future growth, but that wasn’t always the case.

By Julie Kling ∙ Photograph by David Agnello

The town’s population was creeping up to three hundred when Robert Gill’s grandfather arrived from Nebraska in the 1920s, only about a decade after Jackson was incorporated as a town. The original town map was drawn in 1901 by Bill Simpson; Jackson incorporated in 1914. It spanned eleven blocks with twenty 50-by-140-foot parcels per block west of Cache Street. There was no East Jackson yet. Photograph Jackson Hole Historical Society
Photograph by David Agnello
The town’s population was creeping up to three hundred when Robert Gill’s grandfather arrived from Nebraska in the 1920s, only about a decade after Jackson was incorporated as a town. The original town map was drawn in 1901 by Bill Simpson; Jackson incorporated in 1914. It spanned eleven blocks with twenty 50-by-140-foot parcels per block west of Cache Street. There was no East Jackson yet.
The town’s population was creeping up to three hundred when Robert Gill’s grandfather arrived from Nebraska in the 1920s, only about a decade after Jackson was incorporated as a town. The original town map was drawn in 1901 by Bill Simpson; Jackson incorporated in 1914. It spanned eleven blocks with twenty 50-by-140-foot parcels per block west of Cache Street. There was no East Jackson yet. Photography Jackson Hole Historical Society

When Robert Gill was growing up on Teton Street in East Jackson in the 1960s, there were empty lots all around. “You could go to the grocery store, the drugstore, and the post office all on the north side of the Town Square,” he says over lunch at the Wort Hotel, which opened in 1941. Only Broadway Avenue and Cache Street were paved. The rest of the streets—Simpson, Hansen, Redmond, Pearl, Deloney—were gravel. The high school was where the Center for the Arts is now. Pointing out and over his lunch to the Broadway Shops and the Pink Garter Theatre, Gill says, “that was an empty lot, and that was the gas station where I worked. Everything east of Redmond was out of town. There was a junkyard out there.”

In 1960, Jackson had 1,437 residents and 606 housing units. Thirty-five of these homes were too far out from “downtown” (but still in town limits) to have plumbing. Jackson was up to 10,135 residents in 2013. In 2010, the most recent year for which housing stats are available, there were 4,471 units. Some of them, often the ones skids crowd, do look to be on the verge of falling down, but at least they have plumbing.

Remembering the old days in the 1950s, a table of residents at MorningStar of Jackson Hole, a senior living facility in the Rafter J subdivision, laughs when they reminisce that electricity didn’t reach some town neighborhoods, and there were no streetlights anywhere.

In 1955, Warner Houfek and his sweetheart, Jeanne Bircher, lived on a then-quiet West Kelly Street near the rodeo grounds. Houfek’s in-laws owned the land west of Cache Creek to Flat Creek—which today includes pretty much the heart of East Jackson and also part of the National Elk Refuge—and “traded it for land north of Wilson, a six-gun, and a suite of store-bought clothes,” he says.

Additions each have a map or plat. But curiously, there is no master homestead or subdivision map anywhere in the town or county records. Inquisitive, Frank Johnson, a member of the Teton County Historic Preservation Board, created a map of his own.

“A lot of the history of Jackson is in these names you see,” Johnson says. “People would set up a cabin in town so the kids could go to school and maybe have land in South Park or Spring Gulch. It was such a hamlet for decades. The streets didn’t get paved until the 1970s, I think.”

“There was still property [in town] to be claimed up until the 1920s,” says Sara Adamson, president of the Teton County Historic Preservation Board. “This valley wasn’t prime agricultural land, because we were isolated and the winters were harsh.”

Today, if you can find an empty lot in East Jackson, expect it to cost upwards of $500,000, and that’d be for only about .17 acre.

Downtown Jackson in the early 1900s. Photograph Jackson Hole Historical Society
Downtown Jackson in the early 1900s. Photograph Jackson Hole Historical Society

Additional facts (see the digital edition for locations on current photograph of town):

In the 1950s, Robert Gill’s dad, Jackson’s late former mayor Ralph Gill, bought four lots on Teton Street for about five hundred dollars each when the first houses were being built in the Gill Addition. He moved out of 215 Willow Street on the corner of Simpson and into a house on Teton Street the day Robert was born. “It was a great neighborhood with lots of kids running around,” Gill says.

Today, Gill lives on the Hereford Ranch, a nine-hundred-acre property in South Park that he inherited from his grandfather, Robert Bruce Porter, and split with his cousin, Elizabeth Lockhart (her ranch is the Lockhart Cattle Company). The Hereford Ranch is just outside the town limits and has long been eyed for housing development. But Gill says there is sentimental value to that land and also to his father’s Gill Addition house, which he still owns.

John Wilson, a third-generation member of the Wilson family (for which the town of Wilson is named), moved into his home in the second phase of Cottonwood Park in 1988, not far from where his Mormon ancestors settled one hundred years earlier. But he grew up in the 1950s at 280 E. Pearl Avenue, in the Cache Creek addition. The Wilson Motel still stands there today.

South of town, neighborhoods are more spread out and off the beaten path. A drive through Hidden Ranch Loop, which was just developed in 1990, reveals old cabins from a dude ranch built by the Horn family. The now-residential Powderhorn Ranch lodge, part of the original dude ranch, was recently awarded a plaque from the preservation district for being a historical property more than fifty years old.

The Karns Addition was platted in the 1930s and ’40s, a decade when Jackson’s population nearly doubled to 1,046 from 533.

The northwest quadrant where Miller Park is today was expanded east by the Simpson and Robert Miller families, homesteaders who speculated on land and set up early ranches.

The Wilsons were among the Mormon settlers who came over from Idaho in covered wagons, set up ranches along South Park Loop near neighborhoods like Shootin’ Iron Ranch, and established the South Park Cemetery. The old homestead on Wilson Lane and the South Park schoolhouse are still standing.