Jay Em: A historic homesteaderâ€™s havenWritten by Christy Hemken
“An intelligent man, with much foresight, Harris saw a need for various businesses to provide for the influx of homesteaders in this area,” says Jay Em information.
The town’s name was taken from James Moore’s cattle brand, the JM. Moore’s ranch was situated two miles north of the town. A successful cattleman, Moore had also been a Pony Express rider, drover and freighter.
“Jay Em is unique due to the fact it survived because of the homesteader – not because of the railroad, mining or any other industry,” says the information.
Today the town site is composed of the hardware and grocery stores, a cream station, a gas station, the lumberyard and mill building, the bank and post office and the blacksmith shop.
Built in 1920, the hardware store was known as J.M. Hardware and people traveled from as far as 100 miles to get ranch supplies there. They knew they’d be able to get whatever they needed, including parts for one complete windmill. The hardware also had a soda fountain, gas pumps and town meetings, socials and even rifle practices were held in the hall above the store.
The grocery store was constructed in 1935 and replaced the building that was originally Harris’s home and later the mill building. People were allowed to charge their groceries and dry good, and the hall above the store building was used for Sunday school, church club meetings and apartments.
The cream station, now located between the grocery and hardware stores, was small but mighty, at one time shipping out more cream than any other station in Wyoming.
The gas station and garage were known as Shoults Garage from 1928 to 1945, after the first proprietor James Shoults. Then from 1946 to 1960 it was known as Wolfes Repair, with a blacksmith shop in the back of the building.
The first blacksmith shop was west of Harris’s home and Bill Bradbury was the village blacksmith. After that site was flooded out it was moved to the current building around 1919, which later became a garage.
In 1935 Lloyd Damrow and Oscar Bradbury opened a business in the stone shop known as Jay Em Onyx & Gem Co. Through the years it was also known as Wy. Marble & Stone Inc. as well as the Jay Em Stone Shop. The companies that operated there made everything from head stones, fireplace mantels and tabletops to paperweights, salt and pepper shakers, ashtrays, candle stick holders and jewelry.
What is the mill building today was first called the Jay Em Store and the General Store. In 1917 the building housed the grocery, hardware, drugstore, livestock feed and lumber store. Trains traveling through Fort Laramie or Lingle delivered the lumber and equipment stocked in Jay Em.
The Farmers State Bank of Jay Em was opened for business in 1920. In 1945 it was sold to the First National Bank of Torrington. In 1933, after the inauguration of President Roosevelt, a proclamation was issued closing all banks and embargoing all gold to prove the federal government’s power in coping with the financial crisis of the Depression. However, the Jay Em bank did not receive word and stayed open, and it was robbed in 1935.
The first post office in the area was established in 1899 in William (Uncle Jack) Hargraves’ cabin north of town. The postal inspector reprimanded Hargraves for his duties, so Uncle Jack told him to take the post office back. Then, in 1908 Silas Harris (Lake Harris’s father) sent a request to Washington, D.C. to get the post office back.
After that Lake Harris carried mail by horseback three times a week for three months, free of charge, to show he could run a post office. On Feb. 10, 1909 Mrs. C.H. Thronton was appointed postmistress. At the time Lake wasn’t old enough, but in 1914 he was appointed postmaster. He was again appointed postmaster in 1931, a position in which he served until he retired in 1959.
The post office shared a front corner of the bank building.