Wednesday, October 19, 2016

SPLENDID ISOLATION: The Historic Buildings of Grand Teton National Park

Most people come to Grand Teton National Park to enjoy the great outdoors.  They hike and take float trips, go horseback riding or perhaps hunt and fish.  They drive the loop roads and stop at scenic turnouts to photograph the grandeur that they see.  But for me, living part-year five miles from the park, visiting the historic buildings is part of my fascination with being here.  We take so many modern comforts for granted, it is difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of people who left so much behind to live in a country so vast, their nearest neighbors were often miles away—miles that would have to be crossed on horseback or in wagons in winters that might go to minus sixty.  Purportedly, Jackson Hole was one of the last areas of the lower forty-eight to be settled.  Homesteading here began in the late 1880s and only around 400 claims were filed in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Menor's Homestead
In 1894, William D. Menor squatted on 149 acres on the west bank of the Snake River.  He was alone there for ten years, and his original white-washed homestead cabin still stands. He eventually built a shop (now catering for the tourist trade), blacksmith shop, and ran a ferry, while his brother, Holiday, who lived across the river, quarried lime.  With most of the homesteads on the east side of the Snake River, Menor’s
Menor's Bedroom
ferry became the main crossing after 1894 for folks wanting to gather berries and mushrooms, and cut timber.
Nearby is the Chapel of the Transfiguration, built in 1925 on land donated by Maude Noble, who had bought out Menor. Sometimes more than 100 horses could be seen tied and corralled there on a Sunday.  If you have ever watched the film,  Spencer’s Mountain with Henry Fonda, then you have viewed this chapel.  No one who has visited it and seen its magnificent location can doubt the hand of a Greater Being.  To me, it would be a dream location for a wedding!
Chapel of the Transfiguration

In 1895, a group of Mormons from Idaho crossed the Teton Pass in wagons and settled just southeast of Black Tail Butte, becoming Menor’s closest neighbors. They were able to form a community, called Grovont, but that did not make their lives much easier.  They had  to build log cabins, bringing lodge pole pines from nearby forests, dig wells, down 120 ft., and irrigation ditches, and subsist on elk meat and hogs and their own vegetables, while the cattle they raised went to market.  Houses eventually replaced the cabins, bought from the Sears Roebuck catalog and brought by stage across the Teton Pass from Victor, ID.  Today those houses stand as ‘Mormon Row,' including one that is still privately owned.
Homestead on Mormon Row
Finally, there is my favorite place in the park, Cunningham’s Cabin, which I actually used as the model for the ranch in my book, Dearest Darling.  J. Pierce Cunnigham, from NewYork, arrived in Jackson Hole around 1885, aged about twenty.  A few years later he and his wife claimed land under the Homestead Act, thereby laying the foundation for what would become the Bar Flying U Ranch. While a more substantial home was eventually built, along with numerous outbuildings, it is the original dog-pen cabin that still stands today. To view it in its splendid isolation
is to get a real feel for the seclusion these homesteaders must have felt, especially during the long winter months.

Cunningham's Cabin

I hope if you have the privilege of visiting Grand Teton National Park, you'll keep these historic buildings in mind as part of your itinerary.

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Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Andrea, I've never been to this part of the country before, but now I have to go! Beautiful and fascinating places. The photographs alone have lowered my blood pressure. I love poking around old buildings and to think about the lives lived there. How wonderful for you to have Grand Teton National Park in your backyard at least some of the time.

Andrea Downing said...

I'm very blessed with that, believe me--and you're most welcome to visit sometime, too!