By AHW Staff
July 31, 2017
The AMK Ranch represents two important phases of settlement in the Jackson Hole valley: homesteading and vacation homes. The property demonstrates a cultural shift from using the land for basic daily needs and economic sufficiency to a more dominant appreciation of land as scenery and a place for recreation.
The first recorded owner of the property was John Sargent, who homesteaded it in 1890, just one year before the creation of the Yellowstone Park Timber Reserve, which closed the area to further settlement. Sargent’s small ranch at the center of the peninsula north of the present-day research center consisted of a 10-room log cabin with a cluster of outbuildings and corrals. His property never turned into a full dude ranch like many of the other properties in the area. After Sargent’s death in 1913, the property passed through a series of owners.
William Johnson, an executive with the Hoover Vacuum Company, purchased the former Sargent property in 1926, after visiting and falling in love with the area. Johnson and his wife enjoyed summers here on Jackson Lake until his death in 1931.
In 1936, Alfred Berol, founder of the Eagle Pencil Company, purchased the property for his vacation home. The Berol family had a different idea of “roughing it.” The property, renamed AMK Ranch (for the first names of his family members, Alfred, Madeline and Kenneth), became the hub of many social events and extravagant parties, as many as 6 to 8 per month from July through September.
In 1976, after the deaths of his parents, Kenneth Berol sold the AMK Ranch to the National Park Service for $3.3 million. In July 1978, the site was dedicated as the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Station.
Notable buildings on the campus include the Johnson Lodge, Berol Lodge, and Lawrence house. After purchasing the Sargent Homestead in 1926, William Johnson renamed the property Mae-Lou-Lodge, a combination of Mrs. Johnson’s first name and William’s middle name, and built the two-story cabin with attached barn and garage now known as Johnson Lodge. A two-story summer “cabin” was not common in this area, but Mae Johnson insisted on having an upstairs bedroom since she was afraid of bears. Designed by New York architect George Kosmak with help from local Wyoming architect Paul Colbron, the 5,200-square-foot Berol Lodge was built for entertaining after the Berol family purchased the property, with a large living room with a soaring cathedral ceiling supported by heavy logs, and a long dining room terminating in a multi-sided bay. In 1968, to thank Slim and Verba Lawrence for their long years of service at the ranch, Alfred Berol designated one acre of land for the Lawrences to build their own home. It was the last building added to the AMK Ranch during its vacation home period, and the only one not built of log.
Although the buildings are the main attraction, the AMK Ranch has a rich cultural landscape reflecting its long history, from the Sargent era to the present. Sites beyond the cluster of campus buildings include a rifle range and boat dock which Berol built on the east side of the peninsula; a trap-shooting range also built by Berol; graves and memorials of John Sargent, William and Mae Johnson, and Slim and Verba Lawrence; and the famous “violin tree,” purported to be Edith Sargent’s favorite spot to play the violin, sometimes in the nude. The “violin tree” is no longer living, and has been set in concrete to keep it standing in its original location.
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