Where Spirit Survives
By Joyce Driggs Edlefsen
A tiny town with a hearty heritage, Tetonia gets its name from the Teton Range that dominates the sky to the east. Growing up in the Teton County seat of Driggs in the 1950s and 60s, I imagined Tetonia, seven miles north, as a rough and tough hellion of a town with old buildings and quasi-skyscrapers that held grain. Back then Tetonia was mostly a mystery to me with its unpaved streets and gritty rural feel, a couple of bars on Main Street, a church, school, post office, service station, and not much else. Talking to folks this winter, I found I was not alone in my thinking, and that many people from Tetonia are proud of their town’s renegade reputation in the valley.
They know and revel in their history. Tetonia is a town of survivors who are proud of the hard work they have done to keep their town away from the ghosts. In the Teton Valley, this is the community that has remained the most reminiscent of its past. While other area towns have grown because of the overflow from bustling Jackson, Wyoming, and from skiers who came to Grand Targhee Resort and then built second homes to spend more time in the valley, Tetonia has remained the least changed. For more than a hundred years it has been a vital component of the valley, and it still is.
From the west on Idaho Highway 33, motorists can pull off the road into a turnout to gaze at a panoramic view of the valley. The Teton River winds through the foreground. The mountains to the east, west, and south create a basin effect. And those tall metal grain elevators are the landmarks of Tetonia, the first town along the highway in the valley.
It’s an agricultural town, and has been from the start, when homesteaders arrived in the late 1800s, looking for places to settle and make a living off the land and raise livestock. About six blocks wide and seven blocks long, the town still has mostly unpaved streets and plenty of weathered wooden buildings. If you take a tour around town, you will find a couple of homes under construction, some newer homes, and a mix of many more modest and humble houses. Log outbuildings hint at history, and a few abandoned buildings obviously once housed businesses long gone.