'Poor man's legacy' may be preserved in Jackson Hole

  • Angles of the photogenic Moulton barn repeat those of the Tetons

    Dan Heida
  • Veda and Clark Moulton at their Mormon Row ranch

    Alise Rudio

It is perhaps one of Jackson Hole's most photographed scenes: A weathered barn in a green meadow rises up against the Tetons.

"They say it has angles that correspond with the mountains," Clark Moulton says of the barn his father started building in 1913.

For 81 years, Clark has lived in sight of the Tetons on land his father homesteaded. The Moultons were among a dozen Mormon families who filed claims near Blacktail Butte. The families built their houses along a three-mile lane that became known as Mormon Row.

Clark and his wife, Veda, 80, still live on the only privately held acre left on Mormon Row. The rest of the homesteaded land, including the barn, belongs to the National Park Service.

From their house, Clark and Veda see a steady stream of artists and photographers trying to capture the picturesque scene. Curious strangers wander by to inquire about the barn.

The history of the barn was spread through the family by word of mouth, until Candy Vyvey Moulton, a relative by marriage, wrote about it in Legacy of the Tetons. Candy calls the barn "a poor man's legacy" that went national.

To the homesteaders, the Teton peaks were just "a snow-covered pile of rock," Clark Moulton says. When the Park Service took over, the image of the mountains changed. "They were a beautiful snow-covered pile of gold."

Although preserved in a book and in pictures, the barn itself has been in jeopardy. "It's just like an old man," says Clark. "He starts to get weak in the knees. That's the way these old buildings are. They can't last forever."

The barn could be restored, but the Park Service has in the past stuck to a plan to remove every building from Mormon Row, says Michael Johnson, a cultural resources specialist with the Park Service. "The basis for the creation of the Grand Teton National Park was to return land to a natural state."

But regulations regarding historic preservation within park lands were amended in 1993, giving historic buildings another chance.

"There's a growing sense that historical buildings should be preserved for interpreting and telling the history of the area," Johnson acknowledges.

Clark says that the barn is full of history and represents a legacy to Mormon homesteaders who followed the American dream.

"They were always looking for something better; that's why they left Missouri," he says. "When they came here, the horse that pulled the wagon was their implement and the cow that was tied on behind gave the milk, and the chickens in the crate laid the eggs. Those animals were pretty darned important and that barn was shelter for them."

The original structure was rectangular; it took another 20 years and another generation to add a hayloft, pitched roof, a lean-to for horses and a hog barn.

"It is a structure pieced together by a homesteading family according to present need and the condition of the pocketbook," writes Candy Moulton in her book.

As patriarch of the Moultons, Clark is leading efforts to restore the barn. At Johnson's suggestion, he wrote to Park Superintendent Jack Neckels to ask for permission to work on the structure. The Moulton family offered volunteer labor and materials.

In June, Neckels granted conditional approval to save the barn. In a letter to Moulton, Neckels says, "We think its continued presence adds beauty and human scale to an awesome landscape."

Now the National Park Service has approved plans to restore the barn, but before work can proceed the old relic needs to be designated as a historic building.

Sheila Bricher-Wade, of the state Historic Preservation Office, says she will help speed the process. "Of all the historic preservation projects, this is the one that not too many people would argue with," she said.

In anticipation of approval, the Park Service organized a cleanup day Aug. 13, and volunteers removed cow manure and fallen roof material.

Park policy requires a work plan and the understanding that the barn and all materials remain park property.

Family and friends plan to gather on Labor Day for a work party. "It's kind of a family thing to restore it," Moulton says. "It's going to be a rootin', tootin' day."

While the Moultons worry about financing the project, they are all anxious to get to work. By restoring the barn, Clark Moulton hopes to retain a legacy of what life was like on Mormon Row.

"In another 50 years these meadows will be taken over by sagebrush and the cottonwoods will fall over dead from no water," Clark says. "When the three canals were active, we irrigated. We raised hay. There were haystacks everywhere, cattle everywhere, kids coming to school every day, people coming to church on Sunday morning.

"That was the scene in the '20s and '30s. We were never hungry. Everything we had was all here on the ranch."

Alise Rudio writes for the Jackson Hole Guide.

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