Just off highway 85, halfway between the towns of Lingle and Lusk, sits the near-ghost
town of Jay Em. This early 20th century agricultural
community was typical of those which sprang up in the pre-depression era as
farmers flocked to homestead previously unsettled regions of the arid
west. Jay Em was developed in response to the need for contact with the
outside world by Lake Harris, who had moved to southeastern Wyoming in
1905 and filed a homestead claim in 1912.
When homesteaders began to flood into the area at the turn of the nineteenth century, Lake Harris, a man
of vision, saw the need for several businesses to service the newcomers. As the demand for goods and
services grew, so did the town. In addition to overseeing the town's creation and growth, he was at
different times, a newspaper publisher, banker, postmaster, and land commissioner.
The town took its name from local cattle rancher James Moore whose
ranch was situated two miles north of the town site. His brand "JM" was transformed from
initials to words and the town was named. Mr. Moore had a colorful career as a Pony
Express rider, a drover, and a freighter before settling down to ranch. He later
sold his property to ranch tycoon, Van Tassell.
Jay Em was a service
community composed of simple structures providing necessities and very
little else. The streets were never paved or graveled, there were never
sidewalks, curbs or gutters, there was no municipal organization or
community center. But there was a bank, a repair shop and gas station,
a water tower, a general store, lumber yard and post office, and a few
residences. Here also was one of the largest gem stone cutting
works in the State, where useful or ornamental articles from local agate, marble, jasper, and petrified
wood were made. Jay Em's buildings were constructed with the materials at
hand. They are vernacular and demonstrate a rare consistency of
architectural design. This is a tightly knit commercial
district with all buildings within a block of each other. Today, all that remains are boarded-up shop fronts and derelict farm buildings.
A number of the original buildings are still standing:
Built in 1920 it was called "J.M. Hardware." People traveled as much as 100 miles to get ranch supplies
here, always knowing they would be able to get what they needed. Mr. Harris even kept parts for one
complete windmill; just to be sure he had what the customer needed. The hardware was more than a supply
store though, it also had a soda fountain and gas pumps. Town meetings, socials, and even rifle practices
were held in the hall above the store.
Built in 1935, this building replaced the grocery store that was originally in Lake’s home and then
later in the mill building. People were allowed to charge their groceries and dry goods. The hall above
this store was used for Sunday school, church club meetings, and as apartments.
Now located between the grocery and hardware store, this small, but mighty, cream station at one time
shipped out more cream than any other station in Wyoming.
Gas Station / Garage
James Shoults was the first proprietor, from 1928–1945, calling it "Shoults Garage." From 1946–1960
it ran as "Wolfes Repair." A blacksmiths shop was located in the rear.
Jay Em Stone Shop
The first blacksmith shop was west of Harris’s home. Bill Bradbury was village blacksmith. After it
was flooded out it was then moved to this site around 1919 and later became a garage. In 1935 Lloyd
Damrow and Oscar Bradbury opened a business called Jay Em Onyx & Gem Co. Through the years it was also
known as the Wy. Marble & Stone Inc., and Jay Em Stone Shop. Here they made head stones, fireplace
mantels, tabletops, paperweights, salt & pepper shakers, ash trays, candle stick holders, and jewelry.
Lumber Yard / Mill Building
The mill building was first called Jay Em Store and then General Store. In 1917 this building housed
the grocery, hardware, drugstore, livestock feed, and lumberyard. Lumber and equipment came by train to
Ft. Laramie or Lingle.
Bank / Post Office
Farmers State Bank of Jay Em opened for business in 1920. It was sold to the 1st National Bank of
Torrington in 1945. In 1933, after President Roosevelt’s inauguration, he issued a proclamation closing
all banks and embargoing all gold, this to prove the governments power to cope with the financial crisis
of the Depression. The Jay Em bank did not receive word of this so it stayed open. The bank was robbed in
The first Post Office for this area was established in 1899 in William (Uncle Jack)
Hargraves cabin just north of town. The Postal inspector reprimanded Mr. Hargraves for being lax in his
duties so Uncle Jack told him to take the post office back. In 1908 Silas Harris (Lake’s father) sent a
request to Washington D.C. to have a post office in the area again. Lake Harris carried mail by horseback
three times a week for three months, free of charge, to show he was worthy of running a Post Office. On
February 10, 1909, Mrs. C.H. Thornton was appointed postmistress. Lake was not old enough, but in 1914 he
was appointed postmaster, and again in 1931 until he retired in 1959. The Post Office was located in a
front corner of the Bank building.
In the early and mid 1900’s Jay Em was a Jay Em began
its decline in the late 1930s, with the improvement of transportation
in southeast Wyoming. The spread of the automobile and improvement of
roads enabled area residents to travel to larger commercial centers
like Lusk, Lingle, and Torrington, and one by one, the businesses of
Jam Em closed their doors. Only a hand full of residents lived in Jay Em for most of their lives, and perhaps
15 people still live there today. Mostly obscured by trees from the roadside, this
once-vital economic community is now designated a
National Historic District.
In part by Ryan J. Hill
Portions excerpted from Goshen County Chamber brochure.