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By Sue Hancock Jones/Communications Coordinator, Editor, Ranch Record—
LUBBOCK – Donors have contributed more than $100,000 to add the Spur Ranch Church as the 52nd structure in the 19-acre historic park of the National Ranching Heritage Center (NRHC) at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
“The 1912 church will be an excellent addition to our historic park,” said NRHC Executive Director Jim Bret Campbell. “Churches served as a central gathering point and unifier for many ranching communities. Faith and community were critical in places where neighbors were scattered across many miles.”
Campbell said the NRHC has searched for a frontier church almost from the beginning of its founding in the late 1960s. He explained that every structure assembled in the historic park is intended to represent the birth, growth and maturity of ranching. Churches were important to the westward expansion as a gathering place for frontier families and sometimes even served as a school room.
The one-room church was built in 1912 on land donated by Spur Ranch owners descended from S.M. Swenson, who moved to Texas from Sweden in the 1830s.
Swenson’s sons purchased the ranch in 1906 from the Espuela (Spur) Land and Cattle Co. of London. The Swenson brothers platted the town of Spur in 1909 on land that belonged to the ranch.
New residents to the frontier town began to inquire about a church on ranch land donated by the Swenson family. “Your settlement is so new that it does not appear on any map to which we have access,” responded the Episcopal Archbishop of Dallas in 1910.
Determined to prove their commitment, members of the new community wrote a joint letter to the Episcopal Diocese committing financial pledges to building the church. By 1912 the congregation had a new place of worship and chose to name it Trinity Mission.
From the early 1880s through the turn of the century, European financiers and their descendants were heavily involved in cattle ranching and land purchases in Texas. Because the Episcopal Church is the American branch of Europe’s Anglican Church, Campbell said a strong Episcopal presence developed among early ranching families and their cowboys.
Trinity Mission thrived for decades until the 1940s when the war effort began to claim cowboys for soldiers and the nation’s population migrated to larger cities. The inactive mission became the property of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas in 1949, and the diocese moved the church 153 miles to Hereford, Texas. The land reverted back to the Swenson family, and the newly located church was renamed Saint Thomas Mission.
When the Saint Thomas congregation outgrew the building during the post-war boom, the diocese moved the church again in 1955 to Brownfield, Texas. The new congregation chose the name Good Shepherd and continued to meet for more than 60 years until an aging population and reduced attendance resulted in a final service on Christmas Eve 2018.
Negotiations between the diocese and board members of the Ranching Heritage Association (RHA), a non-profit member organization that supports the programs of the NRHC, resulted in the diocese donating the church to the NRHC historic park. The RHA began fundraising efforts to raise the more than $100,000 needed to move the structure 40 miles north to Lubbock, set it on a foundation, restore the building to its 1912 appearance, add sidewalks and signage, and support ongoing maintenance and preservation.
The building will be moved intact with most of the furnishings, including the original pews, altar and podium. Campbell expects the move to occur sometime in mid-September and extend over a four-day period.
In addition to the building and financial donations of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwest Texas, other donors include James E. Fewell of Groesbeck,
Texas; Jenny and Edson Way of Lubbock; Goss Partners, Ltd., of Round Rock, Texas; Rich Anderson of Gail, Texas; Ilah Coffee Merriman of Dallas; Pamela Merriman of Yarrow Point, Wash.; Morris Reaves of Trinity, N.C.; Carl and Linda Andersen of Lubbock; Rob and Peggy Brown of Throckmorton, Texas; Jody and Betsy Bellah of Throckmorton; and Mickey Dorsey of Austin.
“We are grateful to all those who have worked through the years to identify this church and fund the move and restoration of the Spur Ranch Church,” Campbell said. “As the moving date becomes more certain, we’ll share information about the moving route and the church’s entrance into the historic park.”