Harry and Elizabeth Sensenbach moved their young family from Pennsylvania to Jackson Hole in 1914. They settled and applied for land on the eastern boundary of Jimmy Manges’ homestead. They attempted to raise barley and oats, but the poor soil on the western side of the Snake River proved difficult to cultivate. Once they received their patent in 1921, they converted their small four-room house into a restaurant. Their location proved unattractive in terms of agriculture, but it was directly situated on the main road in the valley that traveled north to Moran and Yellowstone. During the difficult years of “proving up” they would have seen an increase in tourist traffic along the road, and decided to embrace the changing pace of the valley.
During prohibition, the Sensenbach place was rumored to sell bootleg liquor. Upon the repeal of prohibition, they quickly became known as the local beer parlor, somewhat fueling the prior rumors. Despite the loss of one of their sons, the family lived comfortably catering to the overnight tourist traffic and added a few small rental cabins. Alfred Sensenbach had been drafted for World War I, but the Armistice was signed before he was called to duty overseas. Tragically, while in training at Rock Springs, he caught the flu, which progressed to pneumonia and claimed his life. He was buried across the highway on his family’s land, facing the Grand Teton. Today, a chain-link fence, located on the southern tip of Timbered Island, lines his solitary grave.
In 1927, the Sensenbachs sold off the remaining portion of their homestead to Elena Gibo and kept 45 acres around their growing cabin court. Once their full attention had turned to the tourist business, they had no need for the majority of their land. The soil was too poor to raise hay or cattle, so they were not considered a dude ranch. In 1944, the Sensenbachs sold their remaining 45 acres and cabin court to retire. Just two years later in 1946, Harry died, and Elizabeth followed a year later. In 1946 Charles Byron Jenkins purchased the property and formed the Highlands Corporation to develop a cabin court. He intended to expand the already successful business, and planned for a large, U-shaped design.
Adding one to two cabins a year, Jenkins quadrupled the size of the small homestead into a true cabin court. Each of the cabins was constructed from logs and reflected the Rocky Mountain Rustic style of the National Park Service architecture. The property remained privately owned, but intentionally followed the design principles of the National Park Service. Buildings were constructed to cater to the evolving needs of tourists. Not only did these cabins look and feel like the rustic dude ranch architecture, but they came outfitted with full, private bathrooms complete with hot and cold running water. Unlike other motor or cabin courts, meals were provided and guests were encouraged to dine there for “convenience.”
The restaurant was popular with visitors and locals alike with the Jenkins family acting as chef, hostess, and wait staff. The rooms were available for weekly or nightly rentals, with activities planned through local concessionaires. Unlike a dude ranch, a saddle horse was not provided but a sense of community was palpable among the guests as if it were a traditional ranch. The Highlands was known throughout the valley for its clean cabins, ease of reservations and quality meal service. It is no surprise that Grand Teton National Park officials began approaching Jenkins with offers to buy the property. Rather than seeing it as a commercialized tourist attraction, the Park officials saw an opportunity for employee housing.
In 1972, Jenkins agreed and sold the 2.9 acres that included all of the buildings for $225,000. The Highlands was a quality location to house the Park employees and hidden from view from the road. The “old” Elbo Dude Ranch had previously been used as staff housing, and it was considered an eyesore so close to the road. With the conversion of Highlands from cabin court to private employee housing, the Elbo was removed from the landscape. Today, the Highlands continues to house Park employees, preserving the careful planning of Charles Byron Jenkins. Alfred Sensenbach’s grave on the opposite side of the highway reminds those who stumble upon it that history is never completely forgotten.
Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach