Photo Cascadia Blog
A Brief History of Grand Teton National Park’s Mormon RowMarch 29th, 2017 by Chip Phillips
Grand Teton National Park is a photographer’s dream, and one place in particular draws photographers from all over the world: Mormon Row. It’s such a distinctly American vista: the craggy, dramatic Teton range looming majestically over a symbol of settlers’ dreams and tenacity in a harsh landscape. There’s such beauty in the simplicity, in the Moulton Barns in particular; the way the warm light hits the wooden beams, some vertical, some horizontal. I’ve wondered over my years of visiting the park about the history of the area, but I never knew much besides a vague idea.
Basically, the Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, said that people could migrate West and set up a homestead and get 160 acres of public land to own, free. In the 1890s, Mormon settlers from Salt Lake set up homesteads in what is now called Mormon Row. They named the village Grovont, after the Gros Ventre river (which is actually named for the Indian tribe, and means “big belly” in French). All in all, there were 27 homesteads, clustered close together, unlike most Western homesteads, which tended to be quite isolated. The closeness helped the people of Grovont share work duties and community. In addition to the ranches and homes, Grovont also had a schoolhouse and a church.
The land and the climate are harsh. The soil was sandy and rocky. Winters in the area are long and brutal, and farming season is relatively short. The people of Grovont dealt with these conditions by digging a network of ditches, to supply water to the community. Water still flows in some of these ditches.
Probably the most famous structure in Grovont still standing is the John Moulton barn. Pictured above, it stands near the more modern, arguably less attractive, pink stucco house that belonged to John and Bertha Moulton. The Moultons originally lived in a log cabin on the site, but replaced it with the distinctive pink house after living there for many years. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a pink house in the Tetons?
Nearby, John Moulton’s brother, T.A. Moulton, set up a homestead with his wife Lucille, and built a very similar barn. This barn looks a bit newer as it took T.A. Moulton over 30 years to build.
Several other barns and structures remain in the former village, which is basically a ghost town, if you think about it.
In the early 1900s, tourism in the Jackson Hole area began to take off, particularly “dude ranches.” Wealthy Easterners wanted to travel to the Tetons and have a taste of living the adventurous cowboy life. I had no idea that dude ranches were wildly popular in the 1910s and 1920s. But as tourism took off, so did people’s concerns about development and protecting the environment. Congress created Grand Teton National Park in 1929, much smaller than it is today. John D. Rockefeller Jr. in particular wanted to preserve the natural beauty of the area and began purchasing land, eventually buying 35,000 acres, which he donated to help expand Grand Teton National Park. Many former homesteads were donated or bought by the national park, some with agreements that the homesteaders or their descendents would continue to live there until their deaths. The former village of Grovont was acquired by the park in the mid-1900s, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.