One of the earliest communities in Jackson Hole was settled in 1896. It was called Gros Ventre, after the nearby river. In Jackson Hole homesteads were too far dispersed to be considered true communities. They were generally organized by which post office was the closest to reach, and “post offices” were often small boxes that traveled from ranch to ranch depending on who was the post master. Grovont, Kelly and Moran were rare in that they developed into “town sites.” In 1899 when the community was applying for a post office, the spelling changed to Grovont, as the United States Postal Service deemed “Gros Ventre” too hard to spell and pronounce. In an attempt to retain the original pronunciation, the homesteaders changed the spelling. Later in the 1920s, the nickname of “Mormon Row” would stick, and “Grovont” only referred to the post office.
The original homesteaders arrived in 1896, and created a north-south community lined up along a central road. The fields and agricultural lands were located behind each of the homesteads. These Mormon “line villages” were also popularly known as “Mormon Rows” throughout the west. The nickname directly referred to the spatial organization of the villages, as well as the dominant religion they practiced. These small communities were built upon communal cooperation, sharing resources and workloads. Such cooperative land practices were based directly out of the Book of Mormon, which also described the types of houses the faithful should live in. Permanent structures built of wood and stone were most preferable, but these materials were not always available.
In Jackson Hole the Mormons faced several challenges unique to the valley. First was the lack of building materials; lodgepole pine was the only available construction material. The first homes were all log cabins, and as time and money allowed, settlers would rebuild with more permanent materials. Mormon Row is one of the only places in the valley where stucco and wooden frame homes were constructed.
Another struggle these settlers faced was their confinement to 160 acre plots of land – acreage that was often too small to graze and cultivate. Having arrived early in valley settlement, however, they were able to claim good agricultural lands, protected by Blacktail Butte on the west and with the Gros Ventre River as a water source to the south. The land was flat and fertile, which allowed a relatively successful farming community to survive on dry farming. Many of the ranchers filed for additional plots under different homesteading acts, and many grazed their cattle up in the Gros Ventre Mountains. The lands on Mormon Row were primarily used for raising hay. After the 1927 Kelly flood, the nearby Mud Springs began producing water that allowed the community to begin irrigating their northern homesteads. After the flood the springs were renamed Miracle Springs because the warm water allowed year-round use.
Today, only 6 homesteads remain from almost 30 families that once called “the Row” home. They are (from south to north): Thomas Perry, Andy Chambers, Thomas Alma Moulton, John Moulton and Thomas Murphy. In 1950 after the expansion of Grand Teton National Park, most homesteaders still living on Mormon Row sold their lands to the National Park Service. One acre of privately owned land still exists, and descendants of Thomas Alma Moulton still live on the property with views of the Teton Range and their iconic barn.
Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach