In 1937 when Geraldine Lucas died, she had spent the better part of the last decade rebuffing several offers to purchase her homestead. Located at the base of the Tetons, directly below the Grand Teton, it was in a valuable and scenic location. For years Harold Fabian of the Snake River Land Company had made offers, and Geraldine refused them all. She once stated if Fabian could stack silver dollars as tall as the Grand, she might start listening. Upon her death, she had been in contact with Oberlin College, her alma mater, with plans to donate the land. Her son Russell had no attachment to the property, and rather than continue negotiations with Oberlin, sold it to a next-door neighbor. J.D. Kimmel and his wife Lura had just purchased the Sam Smith homestead, and were looking to expand. When Lucas’ enviable land came up for sale, Kimmel jumped at the opportunity, even before Fabian had heard the news.
While Geraldine Lucas had few positive things to say about Fabian and the Snake River Land Company, the two could have found common ground in an alliance against a man like J.D. Kimmel. Kimmel was exactly the type of man that the Snake River Land Company feared most, a forward-thinking land speculator who saw dollar signs, and not scenic beauty. He had already constructed several cabins for overnight motorists, along with a general store that housed a post office and a few gas pumps. The small but expanding motor court was called the Kimmel Kabins and the nearby Jenny Lake Store supplied camping supplies. Both were located just off the Teton Park Road, then the main highway that ran through the valley.
Kimmel’s plans for the old Lucas homestead were just what those who sought to protect the valley feared—he planned to subdivide and sell house lots. They would sell quickly, being located close to the convenience store and gas station. They would be situated right at the foot of Grand Teton National Park, and upon any expansion, be preserved as private land. Harold Fabian quickly recognized all the time and money the Snake River Land Company had invested into the valley could be undone by Kimmel’s plans. No lands were more valuable than those directly under the Tetons, and just minutes from Jenny Lake. If Fabian was successful in preventing this type of commercial development in the rest of the valley, a private neighborhood in the middle of the National Park would make that work meaningless.
Whether by accident or design, Kimmel and Fabian developed an easy friendship. Kimmel was well aware of Fabian’s stance on the planned development, but the men were able to compromise their leanings during several social outings. By 1944, the Kimmel Kabins were a success, and many tourists stopped for camping supplies and gas at the Jenny Lake Store. A year earlier, the Jackson Hole National Monument had been formed, and Kimmel’s property was now surrounded by federal land. He invited Fabian out for a drive with their wives, and as the famous story goes, Kimmel said to Fabian, “Fabian, I could ruin your whole damn project.” Fabian replied, “I know you can Uncle Kimmel.” Kimmel left Fabian in worried silence before going on, “But I ain’t going to.” And with that, Kimmel sold his prized lots to the Jackson Hole Preserve (formerly the Snake River Land Company).
The Geraldine Lucas homestead was absorbed into the interests held by the Preserve, Kimmel had never touched the property. Harold and Josephine Fabian were given the property (possibly in reward for his triumph in acquiring the Kimmel holdings) as a summer residence and unofficial headquarters to continue managing the Preserve. It would seem a great irony that Lucas’ biggest foe was also her strongest ally. J.D. Kimmel was given a life lease to continue operations at his Kimmel Kabins, and the Jenny Lake Store. Both of these continued until Lura’s death in 1962. The commercial store and gas pumps were removed and the cabins were converted for Grand Teton National Park employee housing. Today, the Kimmel Kabins still exist in their original location at Lupine Meadows. They are still used as park employee housing, but the store and gas station are distant memories. In aerial imagery, the original roadbed that accessed the old buildings is still visible. Many speculate as to Kimmel’s reasoning for selling to Fabian. Maybe he admired Fabian’s drive to preserve natural spaces for public enjoyment, and maybe Kimmel himself finally realized that scenic beauty outweighed dollar signs. Whatever the reason, both the Lucas homestead and the Kimmel Kabins remain as important pieces in the enduring heritage of the valley.
Text by Samantha Ford, Director of Historical Research and Outreach