As early as 1890, Jenny Lake had been the center of recreational activities in the valley. Jenny Lake quickly became the most popular destination in the valley. The lake was centrally located and provided much of the recreational activities that drew visitors to the valley. The area provided access to the Tetons for climbing and hiking, the lake for any number of water sports, nearby Lupine Meadows was ideal for horseback riding, and wildlife viewing.
The Forest Service was created and adopted the policy that forest reserves should be promoted for their commercial and recreational values. They often leased out large tracts of land for mining, lumbering, irrigation and tourism purposes.
In these early years the Forest Service managed the area and issued permits to the various concessioners operating at the Jenny Lake area. By 1926 there were 30,000 visitors coming to the Jackson Hole valley. Almost every one passed through the Jenny Lake area. At this time, there was such a large demand for visitor services that the infrastructure needed to support this was beginning to dominate the lake shore and ruin the natural setting. At this point there were several concessioners offering overnight stays in cabins, a store, gas station, boat house, horses, a dance hall, and even billboards to entice motorists to stop. In 1927 the Forest Service constructed a campground.
The campground served several purposes for those coming to Jenny Lake. It was an excellent base for mountaineering expeditions, locals became regulars after events at the dance hall and tourists who were vacationing.
Grand Teton National Park Visitor Services
In 1929 Grand Teton National Park was established and Jenny Lake was almost at the eastern edge of the park boundary. The south Jenny Lake area had already been heavily developed as a visitor center, the NPS decided to continue these services under their management. The idea was to prevent further development, and to protect the other natural areas in the park from the high visitor density that Jenny Lake had already suffered from.
The Park Service closed many of the concessions and removed many buildings in order to create a designed plan to help interpret the natural setting rather than block it. The guest cabins, store, gas station, and billboards were all removed. The guest cabins were moved north to become part of the Jenny Lake Lodge which was established on the north-eastern shore of the lake. In their place, the Park Service moved in a cabin from a nearby homestead that they had recently acquired with the establishment of the Park.
The Lee Manges cabin was moved in 1930 from its original location on the west side of Cottonwood Creek to serve as a museum, store, visitor services center and ranger station. The building was reconstructed to match the standardized Rocky Mountain Rustic architecture that had become synonymous with the National Parks.
Fritiof Fryxell opened the first visitor interpretation exhibits in this building, showcasing his historic and geologic collections. Fryxell had initially set up a table on the entrance road, eager to educate anyone who would stop to see his collection.He operated the museum and became the first official visitor contact in the park. Fryxell lived in the building along with one seasonal employee and worked long hours. He eventually ran the visitor services for the entire area, overseeing several employees.
The museum building would serve as the only visitor center until the expansion of the park in 1950 and the construction of the Colter Bay and Moose visitor services facilities in the 1960s. The homestead cabin still serves the visitors today as a ranger station.
Harrison Crandall had originally homesteaded on the northern end of Jenny Lake. When the Park was established, he too, sold his property to the NPS. Rather than move from the area like Manges, Crandall wanted to take advantage of the newly official visitor services on the south shore of Jenny Lake.
He was a talented photographer and painter, and maintained a studio on his homestead. He moved this studio to the Jenny Lake complex and opened his doors to the thousands of visitors that passed through the area. The building was also rebuilt at this time to match the museum in the “Rustic style” architecture.
His paintings and photos quickly became a draw to the area in their own right, depicting wild and natural areas that most visitors would never see. He became known as the “Park Photographer and Resident Artist” and nationally known for his work. He operated his studio for the next two decades, becoming an integral part of the interpretation services. He became so successful that he opened a second studio in Moran.
Crandall became the park’s first unofficial publicist. Many visitors felt their stay was not complete unless they were going home with a print or card from Crandall’s studio. Along with Fryxell operating the first interpretation exhibits, Crandall sold the first souvenirs.
The Crandall Studio would showcase incredible landscape and wildlife photography and art until 1958. It was then converted into a general store for the convenience of the campers and visitors. Today it serves as the area’s visitor center.
Also see: Homesteading, Cattle Ranching, Dude Ranching, and Snake River Land Company
Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach