A visit to Menor’s Ferry Historic District opens a window on Jackson Hole life as it existed in the late 1880’s. Site of a once vibrant commercial enterprise, this piece of touchable history witnessed the spark of conservation which led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park and protection of Jackson Hole. Some visitors leave touched with the inspiration that the struggle for conservation continues even today.
William D. Menor arrived in the valley known as Jackson Hole in 1894. Settling on the bank of the Snake River, he found farming to be a difficult way to make a living. He put to work to design and construct a ferry which became a vital river crossing for early settlers to the valley. A simple platform was set on two pontoons. A cable system was stretched across the river that kept the craft from floating down river yet let it move sideways, powered by the current, to the opposite river bank. Early fees charged were 25¢ for a rider and horse and 50¢ for a wagon and team of horses. Menor built a bridge for winter crossings and dismantling it each spring.
Menor sold out to Maude Noble in 1918. She doubled the fares, hoping to earn a living from the growing number of tourists traveling to the valley. Nobel charged $1 for local autos and $2 for out of state vehicles. She moved her three room cabin to the property shortly after purchasing the business and took up permanent residence. She continued to ferry an increasing number of visitors and even opened a store called the Ferry Ranch Store.
As Jackson Hole continued to develop, concerns turned to conversations until one evening in 1923, a group of local residents met with Horace Albright, then superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. The meeting place was Maude Noble’s cabin and the conversation centered around how to protect the “Old West” character of the valley. Albright was an ardent conservationist who had witnessed the Owens River completely diverted for supply Los Angeles with water. He understood the issues.
In 1926, Superintendent Albright met John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and aroused his interest in saving the valley. Rockefeller described the Tetons as “quite the grandest and most spectacular mountains I have ever seen.” The seed was planted for a lengthy struggle.
Mr. Rockefeller’s Snake River Land Company began to acquire property in the valley. Meanwhile, Congress established Grand Teton National Park in 1929 – just the Teton Range and some of the glacial lakes at the foot of the mountains. In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Jackson Hole National Monument consisting of federal lands in the valley. In 1949, Rockefeller donated over 32,000 acres and combined with the National Monument, Congress established the present Park in 1950.
Bill Menor’s three room cabin stands as a living display of his early commercial enterprise. A replica of his ferry is on display and occasionally operates, ferrying visitors across the Snake River. The Transportation Shed houses a collection of early wagons and coaches representing frontier transportation. The Chapel of the Transfiguration sits on land donated by Maude Noble and is still operated by St. Johns Episcopal Church in Jackson. And finally, Maude Noble’s Cabin still stands as an iconic reminder of the decade’s long struggle for conservation of Jackson Hole and the Teton Range. On display are wonderful photographs of early life in Jackson Hole and correspondences between Mr. Rockefeller and Congress.
Be sure to take time during your visit to tour Menor’s Ferry Historic Center, one of the Park’s best pieces of touchable history. Perhaps you will touched with a thought that the struggle for conservation continues today. Through understanding comes appreciation and through appreciation comes protection.
Take advantage of Grand Teton Lodge Company’s Give and Getaway Program on September 22-23, 2009 and enjoy a private interpretive tour of the Menor’s Ferry Historic District along with the opportunity to participate in the removal of a mile of fence line to improve wildlife migration in Grand Teton National Park. For more information on this program please call 800-628-9988. Rates start at $120 per room at Jackson Lake Lodge.
From Don’s Corner
All images were taken by Don Wells