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