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Shacks on Racks preserves Jackson history — and homes for locals in Wyoming

The "red house" en route to its new location in Etna, Wyoming. The structure was previously slated for demolition, as it was located on the site where the new Jackson Hole History Museum is being built. 
Courtesy of Ryan Dorgan
/
Shacks on Racks
The "red house" en route to its new location in Etna, Wyoming. The structure was previously slated for demolition, as it was located on the site where the new Jackson Hole History Museum is being built. 

In a quiet neighborhood in Etna, Wyoming, Sarah Shervin and her husband Mitch enjoyed a cup of coffee in the living room of their new home. The space is bright and open, with big windows and lots of antiques.

This is a Singer sewing machine that belonged to his grandmother. She was born in Pinedale,” explained Sarah Shervin.

Sarah and Mitch’s families have been in the region for decades. A round plaque of a cowboy on a bucking bronco hangs on the living room wall. The plaque, given by the state historic preservation program, honors families who have owned and operated the same farm or ranch for 100 years or more.

There were only a certain number of these made, and there’s a handful of Teton County residents that have one,” Sarah said.

Despite their roots in the region, the couple —both working professionals — almost had to leave. They lost their housing in East Jackson last summer. For several weeks, they camped and stayed on friend’s couches while they searched for a solution.

“We had furniture and three dogs and nowhere to live. In August, we went down to Salt Lake. We looked at houses down there, went down to the outskirts of Salt Lake. We looked in Las Vegas. We didn’t know what to do. We looked at condos in Jackson,” recalled Sarah.

Last year, the median sale price of a single-family home in Teton County was over 3 million dollars — and inventory was nearly the lowest it has been in 40 years.

But the couple ended up getting lucky. They eventually found a house in Star Valley. While they now have to commute to work in Jackson, the house was an unheard-of price in the region, just under $600,000.

So had we not found this house, I can’t say for sure we would have stayed. We probably honestly would have left,” Sarah said.

But this isn’t a typical house.

The original location of the “red house” in downtown Jackson.
Courtesy of Ryan Dorgan
/
Shacks on Racks
The original location of the “red house” in downtown Jackson.

The home once sat in downtown Jackson on the Genevieve block near Persephone Bakery. Known as the “red house,” it was originally owned by descendants of the region’s early settlers. It was slated for demolition before it was picked up off its foundation and moved 50 miles south.

This was all coordinated by the local organization Shacks on Racks, which also bought the land and renovated the house, for a fraction of the typical price of new construction.

We turn-keyed it for about $120 a square foot, and that’s everything new. We did a 900-square-foot garage with an additional bedroom, three bathrooms, four bedrooms, brand new kitchen,” said Esther Judge Lennox, the organization’s founder.

Shacks on Racks received the structure for free. By donating the home, the original owners saved thousands of dollars in demolition fees.

The “red house” was one of 26 homes that Shacks on Racks has moved since it started in 2015.

The condition of the homes Shacks on Racks works with varies. Some are 100-year-old log cabins and are virtually uninhabitable. Others might be newer but require upgrades that would cost more than starting fresh. Some of the properties were purchased by millionaires and billionaires who want a clean slate on their newly purchased land, but not always.

It could be a regular family who just wants more space,” Judge Lennox said. “Sometimes these aren’t practical because if you were to keep an older structure on site and do an addition, you have to bring everything up to code. In Teton County, that could mean replacing a roof.”

What is one person’s trash can be another person’s treasure.

Shacks on Racks founder Esther Judge Lennox walks through the relocated “red house” in February 2023.
Courtesy of Ryan Dorgan
/
Shacks on Racks
Shacks on Racks founder Esther Judge Lennox walks through the relocated “red house” in February 2023.

Judge Lennox estimates that Shacks on Racks has saved 10% of the inventory of homes slated for demolition in Teton County.

But even if you can get a house for free, finding a place to put it is a big challenge, with the high cost of land in the region.

We’re chasing this dragon of land ownership in Wyoming,” Judge Lennox said.

There is still a big gap in addressing the need, according to Lennox, who said the community needs to change perceptions about what is trash.

Between 2017 and 2021, construction and demolition waste moving through Teton County’s trash transfer station rose by 175%.

“I’m all about reduce, reuse, recycle,” Judge Lennox said. “But that was not the intention when I started this. It hasn’t been until we’ve moved 26 homes that we’ve realized that we’ve kept over a million and a half pounds of trash out of the trash.”

So whether reducing waste from the landfill or finding homes for locals, Claire Stumpf from the affordable housing nonprofit Shelter JH said anything that helps make a dent in the housing crisis is welcome.

I definitely am not under the impression that there’s going to be one solution that’s going to solve everything,” said Stumpf. “So I think people operating in the realms that matter to them, in this case, for Shacks on Racks, relocating homes, is one of the many solutions we’ll need to pursue.”

Pulling back the layers of history in the “red house” reveals a note from Howard Walters who remodeled the bedroom in the home in 1961.
Courtesy of Ryan Dorgan
/
Shacks on Racks
Pulling back the layers of history in the “red house” reveals a note from Howard Walters who remodeled the bedroom in the home in 1961.

When proposals for affordable housing developments come before local officials, they often require adding density to town, something a portion of the community is opposed to. Stumpf said they’re concerned about losing local character and Jackson’s “Western heritage.”

So, moving existing — and sometimes historic — buildings could appeal to a range of people.

I feel like that’s one of those very, very rare solutions that appeals to people who need access to stable housing and people who have been maybe part of the old guard [who are] very averse to seeing larger developments show up in our community,” said Stumpf.

For Sarah and Mitch Shervin, they were able to find affordable housing and have their own piece of Jackson history.

It was good financially,” said Sarah. “It was nice to buy a piece of Jackson history. It allows us to stay here, continue to work our jobs, be part of the Teton County workforce.”

Housing Jackson and preserving Jackson can go hand in hand, although in some cases it means doing so an hour from Jackson. At least the Shervins said they’re in good company.

“In this subdivision alone, there’s for sure five households of Jackson High School graduates, which both Mitch and I are,” Sarah said. “I see more people down here now that I haven’t seen in 20 years.”

And because of this home, she said her future children will be able to have a place in Wyoming.

Copyright 2024 KHOL. To see more, visit KHOL.

That story was shared with us via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, including KDNK.

Emily Cohen