Kelly, Wyoming was initially a modest but thriving rural town located on the banks of the Gros Ventre River. Around 1925 the town had many amenities: mercantile, Riverside Hotel, blacksmith, flour mill (1917-1921, burned), dance hall and sawmill (removed 1918). In 1904 the first school opened on the Warren Henry homestead.
By 1909, families from the surrounding area began constructing small cabins in Kelly to stay in while their children attended grade school. In 1914 the town was approved for a post office, which remains open today. Prior to this, Kelly was known locally simply as “Bridge.” The name illustrates the importance of the timber bridge that spanned the Gros Ventre River, one of the few early bridges built in the valley. There were few options in the valley for safe river crossings, and the Kelly Bridge was one of four until the mid-1920s (along with the Jackson-Wilson Bridge, Menor’s Ferry and the bridge at Moran).
In 1921, Kelly competed against Jackson for the Teton County seat, losing by only 26 votes. Just six years later in 1927, Kelly would be obliterated by a severe flood. The flood destroyed the town, leaving only the school and church intact. Everything else was flattened or swept downriver. It took the town decades to rebuild, but it would never reach the level of prosperity that it had enjoyed prior to the flood.
Today, Kelly is a small community within the eastern boundary of Grand Teton National Park. Both the school and the church that survived the flood did not, however, survive the fire that destroyed both in 1971. Because of these two disasters, the town of Kelly has few, if any, historic structures.
Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach