PHOTO BY KATHRYN ZIESIG
// by Samantha Simma
“When you call me that, smile!” adorned the front desk of the Virginian Lodge for years. It was an homage to the main protagonist of Owen Wister’s Western novel—and the proceeding television series—The Virginian, for which the hotel was named. It was serendipitous that the wife of the property’s developer and original owner, Glenn Napierskie, was named Virginia.
Enthralled by its unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunities, Napierskie began visiting Jackson Hole from his hometown of San Diego, California, in the 1950s. (Two of his trophies—taxidermied big horn sheep—were displayed for years above the bar of the hotel’s saloon.) In the early 1960s, Napierskie noted a lack of lodging in Jackson for families en route to Yellowstone National Park. In 2005, Napierskie told the Jackson Hole News&Guide: “Families would sleep in their cars, or tents. I said, ‘I’m going to take care of them.’” He proceeded to purchase a parcel of hay pasture from brothers Jess and John Wort. On that fifteen-acre property along Flat Creek, he built a motel with just over one hundred rooms arranged in a horseshoe shape around Jackson’s first swimming pool.
In the early 1960s, Napierskie noted a lack of lodging in Jackson for families en route to Yellowstone National Park. “Families would sleep in their cars, or tents. I said, ‘I’m going to take care of them.’”
The Virginian opened on the cusp of Jackson Hole’s transition from cow town to tourist destination—in 1965, the same year ski lifts started spinning in Teton Village. At the time, it was one of only three motels in Teton County that were open during the winter. Since then, the valley has evolved, as has the Virginian—adding another seventy rooms, the saloon, a conference room, restaurant, RV park, and liquor store.
Over the years, it’s been the host to a variety of characters, including the cast of ABC’s The Monroes, which filmed at the restaurant, and also a large contingency of firefighters who battled the wildfires that burned in Yellowstone in 1988. Predominantly, its Western charm and low prices accommodated the budgets of visiting families and seasonal workers.
Napierskie died in a car crash in Grand Teton National Park in September of 2006, at the age of 81. The Napierskie family, which includes son Phillip and daughters Connie and Kristie (youngest son, Gary, preceded his father in death), continued operating the Virginian until 2020. When their mother passed away in May of last year, the family decided it was time for a change. The property was sold in August 2020, and the new ownership group began a refresh of the property and its facilities in October. The bar and motel should be back this summer, and, with any luck, the bar will still have its former kitschy charms and Glenn’s taxidermied trophies. JH