Effort to Save Historic Genevieve Block Marks Public Awakening

A robust campaign is underway to protect Jackson’s Genevieve block. Tucked just slightly away from downtown tourist shops and summer gridlock, the area is indeed a unique part of Jackson. It comprises lush green space that…

by | May 10, 2019 | News, Politics & Policy

A robust campaign is underway to protect Jackson’s Genevieve block. Tucked just slightly away from downtown tourist shops and summer gridlock, the area is indeed a unique part of Jackson. It comprises lush green space that you’d be hard pressed to find on other downtown blocks in Jackson. It is also home to three historic cabins.

When people in the community discovered in September 2018 that this block was slated for a new hotel, they weren’t having it. The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance led the charge, advocating for the block’s preservation. Residents got on board, and in January, “this family came forward; I’ve been quoted as saying, ‘it’s a Jackson miracle.’” That’s Jackson Hole Land Trust President Laurie Andrews. She’s referring to the local family who placed the land on contract after the hotel developer’s contract expired. That move was to give the community time to raise money. A local coalition formed to do just that. Jackson Hole Land Trust is at the head of that fundraising effort. And things haven’t been quiet since they began fundraising in earnest.

On April 26, 335 people donated more than $240,000. That happened in just 24 hours. Many were presumably inspired by an anonymous donor who set up a challenge. That donor told the Land Trust that if 100 people donated any amount, the donor would put up $100,000.  

Now, another donor says that if the trust receives 1,000 donations of any amount during the month of May, they will shell out 1 million dollars. That would make a dent toward the goal, which is to raise 7 million dollars for a historic and green space easement—new territory for the Land Trust and Jackson. “As a community, we haven’t really decided how to take care of our historic buildings,” Andrews says. “And so I think this really is a unique opportunity but also we needed to figure out that this is important to us.”

Morgan Jaouen is the executive director of the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum. She says the community’s passion to preserve the Genevieve block is a Jackson historian’s dream. “Not to speak for our partner organization, the Teton County Historic Preservation Board, but … at times it has felt like we have been working in somewhat of a silo trying to collect and preserve and really promote the unique history of this place. Sometimes that falls on deaf ears, so this has been so exciting to see the reaction to this project and this block.”

Jaouen believes that “it was going to take one of these major properties that we all know and love for different reasons … for people to have that connection to it and really stand up for keeping things how they have been and how they want them to be in the future.”

What is historically significant about the block, Jaouen says, is that it gives us a window into the first half of 20th century Jackson. “A lot of times historic buildings or historic sites tell a specific moment in time. This property is so unique because it tracks the entire Van Vleck family and shares their history and how it related to our community over a period of 50-plus years.”

Using the Homestead Act, people began to settle in the small Western frontier town known as Jackson. Jaouen says just a few prominent families helped shape Jackson into the place we know today. “Certainly Roy and Genevieve Van Vleck were two of those people that were super influential in this community.”

Roy Van Vleck came to Jackson in the early 1900s. He bought a parcel of land and then turned around and went back East “to marry his hometown sweetheart [Genevieve], and brought her back here. They built the original portion of what we know as Cafe Genevieve today around 1910,” Jaouen says.

The Van Vlecks were enterprising. Roy Van Vleck went on to open one of the first mercantiles in Jackson and Genevieve Van Vleck sat on Jackson’s historic all-women Town Council of 1920. There is more to that story, of course, but that gives you an idea of the spirits with whom you’re sharing your bloody marys when you dine at Cafe Genevieve.

Now back to the fundraising. (Remember, we’re talking 7 million dollars by August 14.) Has the Land Trust ever raised that amount of money in such a small window of time? Andrews replies without hesitation: “No. This would be a first … it is really the community showing up and saying how important it is to them, that this block matters to them, that it matters to them that they can make a difference, that their gift makes a difference; the team that is working on this, they are putting so much effort into this.”

 

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn launched KHOL's news department. She has worked as a reporter and editor in Wyoming for the last decade and her work has aired on NPR stations throughout the West. When she's not sweating deadlines, Robyn sustains her nomadic heart by traveling the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow @TheNomadicHeart

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