The National Ranching Heritage Center has added the Spur Ranch Church to their historical park Oct. 7. The Trinity Mission made the journey from Brownfield thanks to over $100,000 in donations from organizations all wanting the church as the 52nd building added to the center.
“There’s a very unique tie to the university that the Spur Ranch Church holds,” coordinator of outreach and communications Sue Jones said. “Clifford Jones, the third president of Texas Tech and the namesake for Jones stadium, was the young Spur Ranch manager at the time the church was built. His godson, Charles Senning, has written that Jones swept the church, dusted the altar and pews, and built a fire in the pot-bellied stove during the winter. He really took care of that church, and we wanted to bring it home.”
The center had been searching for a ‘frontier church’ since the late 1960s, when the center itself was founded, according to the National Ranching Heritage Center news release
“Churches were a very important part of civilization in the early 20th century,” Jones said. “Back then, people lived very scattered out, and it would take days to travel mere miles. The main goal of the church was for it to be a gathering place for all religions, and for everyone to come together. That is the feeling we are trying to preserve, and the feeling we want to have in our park.”
Back then, the men handled taking care of the ranches, and it was possible for them to be gone for long periods of time, collections, exhibits and research director Scott White said. The women, being without their husbands and spread so far out, would start to get lonely.
“Travel was very difficult, and the weather was extremely unpredictable, making travel even harder,” White said. “So, the church became a very significant presence for those able to get to it. It was a place for people to find a spiritual and personal connection within the community.”
The church was built on donated land by the owners of the Spur Ranch. The owners were all descendants of S.M. Swenson, an immigrant from Sweden. His sons were the ones who bought the ranch from the Espuela Land and Cattle Co. of London in 1906. The Swenson brothers then laid out the town of Spur, TX in 1909 on land owned by the ranch according to the news release.
“One of the interesting things about the church is that it was built on land that belonged to the Spur Ranch,” White said. “If the church was ever moved, the land would simply revert back to the ranch.”
The church was moved to Brownfield in 1995, and the Heritage Center finally made enough money to bring the church to Texas Tech, according to the news release.
“I had to coordinate with a lot of people in order to move the building,” White said. “Power companies had to come out and actually lift power lines so the church could get through. It took a while, but I’m pleased because it didn’t take as long as I thought it was going to.”
Now that the center has acquired it, they have placed it between the Barton House and the 80 John Wallace House, Jones said. They also plan to revert the church back to its original state.
“We’re very lucky that the building still houses its original pews, the original altar and the original podium,” Jones said. “A woman in San Antonio happens to have the original pump organ, and she’s going to donate it to us. Currently, the door to the church building is red, but it was not always, so we plan on changing it back to its original color.”
The National Ranching Heritage Center has reopened its doors and welcomes all to visit and experience the 19-acre historic park, Jones said. The opening hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To maintain social distancing, all the indoor exhibits and galleries will remain closed at this time.