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Jackson’s Town Square has several evolutions of use that are older than the town itself. Once an area host to wild cowboys, stray livestock, and trash, the Square looks very different today. In 1932 it was formally named George Washington Memorial Park as part of a nation-wide movement to beautify town centers in honor of Washington’s 200th birthday. The Square appears to be an integral piece of the town plan today, but its placement is an accident that traces its roots to the early homesteading history of Jackson Hole.

Before the Town Square, c. 1910s

Ecoregion, Sky, Vertebrate, Mountain

4th of July, c. 1890s

Ecoregion, Wheel, Flag, Mountain

Town Square, c.1920s

Cloud, Sky, Black, Mountain

George Washington Memorial Park, c.1930s

Plant, Tire, Vehicle, Wheel

George Washington Memorial Park under construction 1931

Sky, Building, Tree, Motor vehicle

Town Square Antler Arch, c. 1960s

Snow, Mountain, Vehicle, Plant

Town Square Egg Hunt, c.1990s

Photograph, Vertebrate, White, Plant

The “Town Square” in the town of Jackson predates the town itself. The location is an accident of necessity, an answer to a pressing community need. In 1896, the town of Jackson had nearly 30 residents. The population was growing, and in need of a community and civic center. Maggie Simpson had been running the Post Office for the last two years, and donated five acres from the least-used northwest corner of their homestead. John and Maggie Simpson were community-minded people, and wanted to contribute to the well-being of their neighbors. This altruistic decision was the first step towards the framing of the Town Square. The land donation was meant to provide an area where a building could stand, the pocket community already had more than enough open land. The building would house the Post Office, which was out-growing the Simpson Ranch, a mercantile, a pharmacy, a bakery, and it provided space for school, church, and elections. 

Finished in 1897, the Clubhouse was the largest and most distinctive building in the area. It was a one-story log structure, but far larger than any of the modest homestead buildings nearby. It provided the community with a space to gather, both inside and outside. Shortly afterward, the building was expanded to its current appearance today, a large two-story rectangular building sheathed in clapboard with a hipped roof. The original logs remain underneath the clapboards. The businesses within the Clubhouse soon outgrew their spaces, and relocated on adjacent lots. Seeing the opportunity for the community to grow into a town, in 1900 Maggie Simpson purchased a forgotten 40-acre parcel of land. Maggie subdivided 10 acres and together with Grace Miller, drew up the first plan for the town of Jackson. They sold the lots for $10-15, and the prime lots were those closest to the Clubhouse. Early photographs from this time show how the Clubhouse dominated the landscape, and was easily the most visible building. This helped draw people to the area, and the lots sold quickly, and formed a haphazard square in the middle.

Because of the abundance of open land nearby, there was no immediate need for a recreation area. Any large outdoor recreation events were held outside the growing downtown area, to the southwest where the first rodeo track was built. The open square in front of the businesses was mostly populated by stray cattle and over livestock. The site also became a convenient place to dump debris from the construction of nearby businesses, or from nearby homesteads. There were no formal streets other than the grid pattern the lots created, and the central square was a series of overlapping zigzag ruts. When it rained, the compressed area became muddy and the livestock left behind the smells of a working ranch.

By the 1920s, the “dump” was and eyesore, and an embarrassment to the newly incorporated (in 1914) Town of Jackson. There was an earlier attempt to clean it up, and prevent residents from openly dumping their trash in the middle of their busy commercial area. A flagpole was erected out front, to give the community space to acknowledge national holidays and other important events. But problems persisted with livestock, and unruly cowboys causing disturbances. In 1920, the Town elected an entirely female ticket to be the Mayor and Town Councilors. Mayor Grace Miller, and her councilwoman Genevieve Van Vleck, Rose Crabtree, Mae Deloney, and Faustina Haight set to work cleaning up their town. Jackson’s female ticket is often described as the first, however towns in Kansas and Nebraska achieved this in the 19th century. Jackson was, however, the first to appoint women to all of the municipal positions as well. They appointed Marta Winger as Clerk, Viola Lunbeck as Treasurer, Edna Huff as Health Officer and Pearl Williams, just 22-years-old, as Marshal.

This garnered national attention during a year when the United States was to decide on women’s right to vote, let alone hold a political office. None got so much attention as Pearl Williams, of diminutive stature and age, holding down the law in a rugged mountain valley notorious for its outlaw legends. Pearl, however, didn’t think it was all that interesting and soon tired of the media attention. The valley’s reputation had long-ago sunk into nothing more than tales, and the reality was that she spent more time wrangling loose livestock than anything else.

The women set about collecting taxes (something their male predecessors had neglected to do), and used the money to clean up the town. They graded streets, and fixed up the flagpole area outside the Clubhouse into a formal square. They set up a fence to keep the livestock out, and a few trees were planted to help bring in some color. Their efforts were successful, and the area began to be referred to as “the Square.” It was now a source of pride, and a way to show newcomers that Jackson Hole wasn’t the wild and wooly outlaw town they expected.

In honor of George Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932, the federal government sponsored a nation-wide effort to beautiful town centers. Jackson jumped at the available funds to finally set up some green space in a now busting downtown area. The town was filling in, and quiet areas of respite were becoming difficult to find. The Square was renamed “The George Washington Memorial Park” and federal funds planted grass, set down fixed pathways, trees, shrubs, and an overall planned landscape. Work was overseen by Olaus Murie, a famous local wildlife biologist. Though the “Town Square” nickname is more frequently used today, the green space and landscaping remains. In the 1960s, the antler arches were built by the Rotary with winter shed antlers gathered by the local Boy Scouts. Today, most are unaware of the Square’s origins as the town dump, and the boardwalks, grass, and mature cottonwoods that offer respite for tourists and locals alike. 

"Clubhouse," If Walls Could Talk Series. Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum.

"George Washington Memorial Park," National Register Nomination Form. NPS, 2003.

"Town Square," If Walls Could Talk Series. Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum

Jackson Hole Historical Society & Museum