Jackson's Iconic Town Square Has More Than 8,000 Elk Antlers In Its 4 Arches

Each of the four arches surrounding Jackson's George Washington Park is constructed entirely of elk antlers, more than 2,000 in all, weighing more than 14,000 pounds. In all, there are nearly 60,000 pounds of antlers in the city park.

JN
Jake Nichols

December 10, 20236 min read

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The Jackson town square is worthy of the accolades. It’s a magical space — the de facto heartbeat of a community since probably before it was officially christened George Washington Memorial Park in 1934.

A popular dance hall, clubhouse and post office anchored the space into the turn of the century. It was joined in the late 1930s by a beloved drug store with an old-fashioned soda fountain malt shop counter that served the best milkshakes around.

The iconic elk antler arches were added in the 1950-1960s along with the longest-running Western gunfight reenactment, “Town Square Shootout,” which continues today.

A monument to veterans was added as the park’s central piece in the 1970s. It was revamped in 2021 and now contains the names of every local who has ever served during wartime.

And today the square is busy as ever.

Even when hordes of visitors are not descending on the center of Jackson, two webcams dutifully capture every minute, every second, from opposite corners of the park.

With the lightspeed development in Jackson threatening to pave over paradise, town square acts like New York City’s Central Park — a holy sanctuary from mankind’s uncheck greed where trees don't have to fear the woodcutter.

The 1-acre plot in downtown Jackson is also home to the Veterans Monument, honoring local service men and women who have honorably served in all armed conflicts from World War I through Desert Storm.

But most folks know the town square for its elk antler arches. The entranceways at each corner of the square have become a must-get photo op for just about every visitor to the gateway town to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

As a Kodachrome moment, the arches might not be Niagara Falls, the Golden Gate Bridge or the Liberty Bell. But they’re close. Countless millions of tourists have taken their turns posing under the archways.

  • During the holidays, the Jackson town square is transformed into a winter wonderland, and is equally spectacular at night.
    During the holidays, the Jackson town square is transformed into a winter wonderland, and is equally spectacular at night. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • One of the most popular photo ops in Wyoming is at the antler arch on the southwest corner of the Jackson town square.
    One of the most popular photo ops in Wyoming is at the antler arch on the southwest corner of the Jackson town square. (SeeJH.com)
  • Jackson town square during daytime.
    Jackson town square during daytime. (SeeJH.com)
  • Jackson's town square's southeast corner on Dec. 9, 2023.
    Jackson's town square's southeast corner on Dec. 9, 2023. (SeeJH.com)
  • In winter, the pop-up ice skating rink is a popular attraction.
    In winter, the pop-up ice skating rink is a popular attraction. (SeeJH.com)
  • There's a placard at the Jackson town square explaining its history.
    There's a placard at the Jackson town square explaining its history. (Town of Jackson)

Smile, You’re Under The Arches

Who knew those arches would be such a hit? Certainly not the men who built the first one in 1953. We have the Jackson Hole Rotary Club to thank for the inspiration and perspiration of the antler archways.

The club fundraised and built the first one. It was installed on the southwest corner (still the most popular corner). It was so popular from the outset, they knew they would have to make three more to complete the “set.” The others were added between 1966 and 1969.

Each arch is constructed entirely of elk antlers, more than 2,000 in all, weighing more than 14,000 pounds. Workers skillfully weave antlers together around the steel frame. Some of the lower ones are screwed down to add extra support and prevent vandalism. A little friction and gravity hold the rest together into the massive mosaic.

Today’s arches are not the original ones, though. Elk antlers have a limited lifespan and need to be replaced every 50 years or so.

The antlers come from the nearby National Elk Refuge where thousands of protected elk are fed during the winter months. Each spring, the bull elk shed their antlers before departing the refuge, so there’s plenty to go around.

Jackson Hole’s Boy Scout troops harvest shed antlers from the National Elk Refuge each season. In May, the community celebrates ElkFest, a multi-day festival with vendors, music and food. During ElkFest, the harvested antlers are auctioned off to bidders from around the world with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the National Elk Refuge.

The Rotary Club has replaced the arches as needed in recent years. In 2007, hotelier Jerry Johnson bought one of the aging arches at auction for $51,000. He relocated it to his Rustic Inn at the town’s north end. Another old arch can be found at the Jackson Hole Airport.

The southeast arch was redone in 2009, the northeast corner in 2011, and the northwest one in 2013. Each time, workers disassembled the old arch just after Memorial Day and had the new one up by the Fourth of July. By 2015, all four original arches were replaced and are expected to last until around 2050.

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Square Park In A Round Hole

The town square actually predates the town of Jackson, which was incorporated in 1914.

In 1896, the town of Jackson had nearly 30 residents and was growing. There was a need for a community and civic center. John and Maggie Simpson gifted 5 acres to the effort and the town square had its first building by 1897. The clubhouse was the largest and most distinctive building in the area.

The rest later fell into place. Soon, a post office, IOOF (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) building, the Rainbow Dance Hall, Jackson’s first newspaper (Jackson’s Hole Courier) and the Jackson Drug Co.

Jackson Drug was recently bespoke to its origins as a food service counter (with those memorable malts) by its first owners, the Gill family, in 2019.

Things weren’t always ideal on the town square. During the 1920s, there were still no formal streets in Jackson. Wagons and horses and everything else zigzagged across the square. The open space also had become a convenient place to dump unwanted items and trash.

Jackson’s all-female town council — the first such in all the nation — began a crusade to clean up the square-shaped park. They planted trees and erected a fence to keep livestock out. It was then that residents began referring to the area as the town square.

In honor of George Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932, the federal government sponsored a nationwide effort to beautiful town centers. The town square was renamed George Washington Memorial Park and Jackson officials used federal money to further beautify the greenspace with pathways, shrubs and additional landscaping.

American Legion Post 43 dedicated the Town Square Veterans Monument in 1976. Atop the pedestal is a bronze of Wyoming’s epochal bucking horse and rider.

And More ...

During summer, the park fills tourists looking to take a load off while shopping downtown. The square also serves as a convenient venue for the farmers market and other regular events.

The northeast corner is home to the world’s longest-running shootout. Since its beginning in 1957, the shootout takes place promptly at 6 p.m. every Monday through Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

In winter months, a popup skating rink takes up part of the east side of the park. Santa also sets up shop for visits after officially arriving early every December when the Christmas lights on the square are lit.

With all apologies to Jackalope Square in Douglas, Lions Park in Cheyenne and Lewis Park in Wheatland. Glenrock, we love your town square. Ditto Sundance. Casper City Park is gorgeous and Kemmerer’s Triangle Park is certainly unique.

But the Town Square in Jackson sparkles, especially this time of year. It’s a jewel.

Jack Nichols can be reached at Jake@CowboyStateDaily.com

  • During the holidays, the Jackson town square is transformed into a winter wonderland, and is equally spectacular at night.
    During the holidays, the Jackson town square is transformed into a winter wonderland, and is equally spectacular at night. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • During the holidays, the Jackson town square is transformed into a winter wonderland, and is equally spectacular at night.
    During the holidays, the Jackson town square is transformed into a winter wonderland, and is equally spectacular at night. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • During the holidays, the Jackson town square is transformed into a winter wonderland, and is equally spectacular at night.
    During the holidays, the Jackson town square is transformed into a winter wonderland, and is equally spectacular at night. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter