Historic Preservation Month: The Block

Today, the Genevieve Block hosts a cherished community greenspace and historic buildings that are currently home to beloved local business. The Block is not only a community hub, but also provides a glimpse into Jackson Hole’s history. May is National Historic Preservation Month, and in honor of that we recognize the unique historic buildings, properties, and places that make up the heritage and character of our treasured landscapes. From homesteaded working lands and houses to the first businesses that lined main streets, our western roots continue to shape Wyoming communities today.

In August of 2019, the Jackson Hole Land Trust celebrated the monumental completion of an ambitious $7 million community campaign to “Save the Block” to safeguard the community greenspace through a conservation easement and protect its historical character. The Block represents the town’s early history from the lens of a foundational family, the Van Vlecks. The 1.2-acre lot located just off of Broadway and Deloney, pays homage to the grit and determination of what was once a modest agricultural town and the residents who called it home. The three original structures nestled in the lot’s greenspace characterize Jackson’s architectural past as it evolved from a small western town into a tourist destination. But beyond their squared joints and wooden bones, the buildings memorialize the people who walked through their rooms and into a mountain town’s history.

The Van Vleck House, visible today as Café Genevieve, has been a community-gathering place for over 100 years. The log cabin was originally constructed by Clare Roy (Roy) Van Vleck in 1910 and was the only property in Jackson with a water well at the time. Neighbors would often stop by for meetings, social activities, and, of course, water. Roy and his wife, Genevieve, resided in the cabin until 1960, during which they helped shape the town as it grew around them. Roy Van Vleck was a businessman and operated the town’s first mercantile, which he later sold to his son-in-law, Harry Weston. Roy invested in his community as a board member for the school and hospital and then later served as Land Commissioner. Genevieve Van Vleck gained fame as one of five women elected to town council in May 1920. After their election, Genevieve and her fellow councilors continued to appoint women to administrative positions, making Jackson the first in the nation with an all-woman municipal government. Genevieve served for three years and helped solidify the ethos of independent women in the West.

The Weston and Stewart Houses are situated to the east of the original Van Vleck House and sit slightly farther back from Broadway. The Van Vleck children, Estella (Stella) and Katherine Jean (Jean), built the homes on land gifted or sold to them by their father, Roy. Stella and her husband, Harry Weston, constructed the Weston House in 1936 as a cross between Roy and Genevieve’s log cabin and the bungalow-style popular during the time. Stella and Harry were community leaders, conservationists, and, like many people in northwestern Wyoming, outdoor-enthusiasts. Stella helped found the local Girl Scouts, served on several community organization boards, and enjoyed annual hunting trips for sage grouse and antelope. Civic duty was also important to Harry, as he served on the town council, as a board member of the Grand Teton National Park Natural History Association for over 50 years, and maintained membership numerous other local organizations. In 1950, Jean and her husband Robert Stewart, built a red ranch-style home on land gifted to her by Roy and purchased from her sister, Stella. The Stewart House is the western-most house on the Genevieve Block and represents the last of the Van Vleck family houses built at a time when downtown Jackson was becoming a busier, residential area.

As a result of the tremendous community and partner support during the Save The Block campaign last summer, we showed that greenspace and heritage matter. As Jackson continues to evolve, The Block will remain constant. The space will persist with its cherished businesses, greenspace, and historic character that reminds us of the town’s humble beginnings and the Van Vleck family who helped shape its future.

As part of the plan for The Block, the Van Vleck House and the Weston House remain protected by character easements that will ensure the buildings are forever maintained and restored in accordance with the façade restrictions placed on them. Meanwhile, the eastern-most lot, where the 1950s home of Jean and Robert stands, is slated to become the campus of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum (JHHSM). In the future, visitors to The Block will be able to patronize local businesses in historic buildings, relax for a moment under the shade of a large Cottonwood tree next to Cache Creek on the greenspace, and dive deeper into the area’s history with a stop at the JHHSM.

Thanks to the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum archives for providing historic photos, the Weston House survey (conducted and prepared by Teton County Historic Preservation Board), and the Van Vleck House National Register for Historic Places nomination (prepared by Amy Kiessling for the Teton County Historical Society)!

Story: Carlie Ideker
Photo: Jackson Hole Historical Society and Musem

Open Space Adventure: Play Archaeology Detective

Archaeologists are like prehistoric detectives. It sounds silly, but by investigating items that have been left behind, we can learn a lot about past peoples. This week it’s your turn to play archaeologist detective & get your hands dirty! While respecting found items, use our Human History and High-Altitude Archaeology worksheet to get outside and find an artifact to record.

Open Space Adventure: Learn to Fish

Are you hooked on riparian zones? Well you’ll love fishing. 🎣 Join this week’s special guests for a fishing adventure! Then, head out to a JHLT-protected property like Karns Meadow or R Park to give it a try with your kiddos. Remember, fishing is allowed at R Park for those 16 and under.

Open Space Adventure: Riparian Scavenger Hunt

Continue your riparian zone exploration with a fun scavenger hunt. Print the pages in English or Spanish, add it to your nature journal, and get outside to observe the natural world. Don’t forget to check back on Wednesday to learn more about water and fishing!

Open Space Adventure: Color a Creek

Welcome back to Open Space Adventures! Download these printable pages and let your kiddos bring to life the kind of critters and scenes you might find in riparian zones. Bonus points for heading outside to find artistic inspiration at river, pond, or stream near you!

Art: Kay Stratman

Open Space Adventure: Riparian Zones

Over the next two weeks, we invite children and those young at heart to join us on a journey to learn about where the water meets the land. There are likely a few of these areas, called riparian zones, in your neighborhood that you can access by foot, bike, or vehicle! Use this video to help guide you on your outdoor adventure to learn more about these unique places.

These short videos are designed to encourage your children to explore nature in a thoughtful, educational, and fun way. Our goal is to provide you with resources that you can use to get outside on your own schedule! Print off resources like the Nature Journal and bring it on your next outdoor adventure to document all the cool things you experience around you.

Photo: David Stubbs

Open Space Adventure: DIY Bird Feeder

Welcome back to Open Space Adventures! Big animals like mule deer and pronghorn aren’t the only ones who migrate. Birds also travel long distances to show up here in Northwest Wyoming — you might even spot spring arrivals like mountain bluebirds or western meadowlarks in your own backyard! Follow along with this Open Space Adventure to make your own bird feeder, then head outside to observe.

Photo: Dan Duchscherer/USFWS

Landowner Spotlight: Wyoming Wetlands Society at Valley Springs

Heading south out of the hustle and bustle of Jackson, the eye soon relaxes as it is greeted by the open pastures of working cattle ranches and the meandering riparian corridor of the Snake River. The Valley Springs conservation property owned by the Wyoming Wetlands Society (WWS) lies at the forefront of this pleasing landscape. In 2001, the citizens of Jackson voted for Teton County to impose a Special Purpose Tax (SPET) to obtain a 200-acre piece of the Valley Springs Ranch. A portion of this property was then purchased by the Jackson Hole Land Trust and donated, under conservation easement, to the WWS. The WWS now manages the ponds and wetlands to support its mission of helping to restore the Rocky Mountain population of trumpeter swans.

After retiring from Wyoming Game & Fish, Bill Long founded the WWS in 1986. His team, including Executive Director Carl Brown, has been working to respond to a recent decline in trumpeter swans in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Although frequent in Jackson Hole in the winter, these swans are migrants from Canada. The number of swans nesting and breeding in this area has been struggling. The WWS takes eggs from active nests in Canada, hatches them, and then “grafts” the young cygnets to the few active nests in the GYE. This increases the number of swans that will look to return to the GYE to nest, restoring historical migration patterns and an important biological connection of the GYE to other wilds of North America. It also helps diversify the population by introducing genetics from northern flocks.

Taking a big picture perspective on the conservation of Wyoming’s iconic wetland species, the WWS offers a number of other services to help preserve and improve Wyoming’s wetlands. The WWS provides a consulting service for private landowners that are looking to enhance existing wetlands, including the design of pond islands that offer trumpeter swans the amenities they require for nesting.

WWS also offers the crucial service of beaver relocation. Adept wetland engineers, beaver pose problems to private land managers with their incessant lodge building. The WWS will trap beaver for private landowners and relocate them to the headwaters of Teton County, where their diligence creates wetland habitat and imparts crucial water quality services to the entire watershed.

For more information on the Wyoming Wetlands Society, visit wyomingwetlandssociety.org.

Open Space Adventure: Mental Map

Welcome back to Open Space Adventures! Did you know that migrating animals like mule deer can still find their way in the dark using senses other than sight? Explore the mental maps that guide wildlife migration with your kids by downloading our printable pages in English or Spanish and following along.

Photo: Josh Metten of EcoTour Adventures

Open Space Adventure: Animal Migration

Welcome back to Open Space Adventures! Migration is such a cool topic to learn about because there are so many different species from tiny insects like dragonflies and monarch butterflies, to birds like cranes and geese, all the way to pronghorn and mule deer that all migrate. Northwest Wyoming is home to many migrating land animals like mule deer, elk, and pronghorn, to name a few. Check out the resources below to learn more about why these animals migrate, how far some of these animals travel, and when and where you can see them passing through your neighborhood.

Check out the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website site to learn about how your summer vacation happy place might compare to a deer’s summer range happy place and gather some insight into why these animals take their journeys.

Watch this video from the Wyoming Migration Initiative which shows the world record deer migration visualized in 3D. Her journey takes place right in our backyard!

Last, but certainly not least, use this link to view the live video feed from the Trapper’s Point Wildlife Overpass webcam. Right now, thousands of pronghorn and deer are migrating north in large and small herds and are moving across the overpass. Pull out your nature journal and make some observations about what you see!

Don’t forget to check back next week. We will take a closer look at the “maps” that animals use for migration and how kiddos can create these kinds of maps too!

Photo: Josh Metten