Just weeks ago, two of Jackson’s beloved historic sites seemed in grave danger. Now, in one stroke, they may both be saved.
With the fates of the Genevieve block and the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum hanging in limbo, stewards of the valley’s Western heritage offered a solution: purchase part of the iconic downtown block and relocate the museum’s collections and several decades-old cabins there.
“We’re really excited for this opportunity,” said Morgan Jaouen, Historical Society executive director. “I keep saying if we had our choice of spots throughout all of Teton County, I still think this is one of the most ideal.”
To make it happen, the Historical Society and the Historic Preservation Board are asking elected officials for a slot on the ballot in the upcoming specific purpose excise tax election. They have requested $4.4 million in revenue from the voter-approved 1-percent sales tax, and they plan to match that with $4.4 million raised through private philanthropy and the sale of their site on Cache Street.
Of that money, $2 million would go toward purchasing the southeast corner of the Genevieve block, which is at the center of a massive community movement to preserve three historic cabins and the green space that surrounds them.
That campaign has so far raised over $1 million of the $8 million required, and an anonymous family has pledged another $1 million.
“Now,” Jaouen said, “the Historical Society is coming in to really complete and anchor this historic block with a nonprofit to actively preserve and share the history of that block, as well as all of Jackson Hole.”
The Historical Society’s lease on the Mercill property is up in March, after which Teton County intends to replace three other historic cabins there with affordable housing. This new proposal would move those buildings — the Coey, Karns and Shane cabins, and the thousands of artifacts stored within — to the Genevieve block, where they would take the place of the red house on the corner.
Another $6.4 million would be used to relocate and rehabilitate the cabins, as well as improve the site and build another facility. The final $400,000 would go toward off-site storage, likely in Star Valley or Teton Valley, Idaho. Though some artifacts will have to be shipped out of Teton County, Jaouen said, the most valuable and most exhibited can stay where they belong.
Though elected officials did not formally approve the plan, they broadly supported the concept.
“It’s really important that we help the Historical Society find a new home as we’re building housing on the site of its current home,” Councilor Jim Stanford said. “It’s really struggling to keep Jackson Hole’s history stored in Jackson Hole, and not in a neighboring county.”
County Commissioner Mark Newcomb noted that “not only would it be a huge gem for this community,” but a permanent home for the Historical Society would save the county from having to “significantly” fund the group’s lease on county-owned land.
Jaouen said the move would consolidate the Historical Society’s operations and give it a long-term, reliable location.
“That has been our goal for a long time now,” Jaouen said. “A cohesive campus that is historic in itself, and a great place to interpret history. And that happened here.”