As we ease our way into summer, you can feel the excitement build as the change of seasons blossoms throughout the Enchanted Circle. Within this area of unmatched beauty and geological diversity lies the Town of Red River, just north of Eagle Nest on Highway 38. Tourists flock here each summer for its wealth of outdoor recreation, and to see the fascinating deserted mines and prospectors’ cabins that dot the town’s peaceful terrain. They provide historic proof of the 50-year mining boon for gold, silver and copper that made the area one of the most prosperous until its eventual “bust” in the early 1930s.
Today, one specific structure in Red River stands as a proud reminder of the town’s mining heritage, and to the individuals who sought a wholesome gathering place for fellowship and recreation in their developing township. That building is the Red River Community House, built in 1942, now a historic landmark. In December of 2003, the Red River Community House earned the status it so greatly deserved when the State of New Mexico recognized the structure’s historical significance and listed it on the State Register of Cultural Properties, helping to ensure the Community House’s benefit for generations to come.
Perhaps you’ve seen it, perhaps you’ve been there, but this historic log cabin-style facility is more than just a place to meet. It is a visual reminder to locals, descendents and visitors not only of the town’s mining history, but of the inspiration and commitment of countless individuals and families who created and fostered a place that began a pattern of social events, deeply rooted in similar beliefs, customs and practices.
Though the “House” is open year-round to serve the community, summer is the season of greatest activity, including square dance festivals, weekly church services, vacation Bible school, art classes and nature tours, weddings, graduations, holiday special events, musical concerts and more. The perfect family gathering place to renew old friendships, with a guarantee of gaining new acquaintances.
The story of this classic log-cabin style structure is a fascinating chapter in the town’s vibrant history. The idea was conceived on a rainy, cool night in 1939 before a fire in a cozy Red River cabin by a group of five individuals. Each regretted that everyone coming into the valley did not have a place to meet and enjoy the fellowship of visitors from neighboring towns and states, instead of sitting in their own small cabins. After a great deal of discussion, the decision to create a building for the benefit of current and future generations was agreed on. Each contributed $10 to defray the cost of researching a location and checking with the U.S. Forest Service to locate a building site. After reviewing the county records, it was discovered that a block had been set aside when the township was plated for a “Community Building or City Hall.” A lease was obtained from the County Commissioners in 1940 for $1.00 per year… and the “borning” began.
According to Ruth Yeager, author of the 1977 unpublished manuscript “Red River Community House,” the determination of the original group of five was unwavering.
“We discussed the plan with our friends and family and the enthusiasm was ovewhelming,” she explained. The original five consisted of W.P. Foster and his daughter Wellene, from Oklahoma; Verne Hendry, also from Oklahoma, who lived with his mother in the town’s first summer home; Mrs. Walter Bachman; and Mrs. Hal (Ruth) Yeager, from Wichita Falls, Texas.
The group began requesting donations, not only in Red River, but from the business and professional people in Taos and Raton as well, reasoning that what benefited Red River would also benefit them. They organized book reviews, sold tickets to dinners, and passed the plate wherever people congregated. Hal Yeager, Jr., who lives in Wichita Falls but has spend eery summer in Red River since the age of five, recalls that “Everyone was anxious to raise money for the building… I helped my parents by working at chili suppers, and sold eggs all around town – a dime each or two for a quarter!”
By the end of 1940, the organizers had $700 in the bank and contracted Walter Janney to erect the original 3-0′ x 50′ building. The newly formed, non-profit Red River Community House, Inc., governed by a board of directors, oversaw the construction. But scores of volunteers including cowboys, miners, tourists, doctors, lawyers or anyone who could drive a nail or pass a jug of water was welcomed to lend a hand to the exciting project.
In August of 1942, the dedicated people of Red River celebrated the completion of their Community House with an open house, welcoming everyone who helped make the construction of the “House” a reality by donating their time, efforts and hard-earned money. Guests brought covered dishes and everyone wore their Sunday best. The local paper, The Red River Colossal, reported that the Community House was the “uniquest of the unique, and stands as a testimony of what can be done once the idea is conceived in the minds of the right folks, which evidently was the case.”
At the entrance fo the House, visitors are still greeted by a stately set of hand-carved doors dating back to 1927. Made of walnut and oak, they originally served as the entrance doors to the Waggoner Building, the first office building in Wichita Falls, TX. The set was imported from Mexico at cost of $800 each. Hal Yeager was responsible for procuring the architectural jewels and generously donated them to the House for all to enjoy.
The original hardwood maple floors are another acquisition by Yeager whose attention to fine detail helped make the building architecturally unique and memorably significant. The floors, which have withstood 62 years of festivity from several generations, were salvaged from a J.C. Penney store in Wichita Falls after a devastating fire in 1941.
Also original to the main building is its one-of-a-kind fireplace, which today still dominates the east elevation of the House. The fireplace was constructed of rough, native rocks, hand-selected and personally hauled by Elmer Janney. Janney and a crew of volunteers crafted the fireplace, whose square chimney rises almost 17 feet. Inside, the fireplace represents the heart of the building, where friends and family gather to enjoy the warmth of companionship and memories.
By 1946, the first addition to the Community House was necessary to accommodate the growing numbers of visitors frequenting the center for social events. As the town grew in popularity, so did the Community House. The Board voted to expand, and set out on a new mission to solicit funds and, later that year, the addition was complete.
The addition extended the front of the House, providing the necessary room for large gatherings. During this phase, when the original front facade was removed to allow construction of the new front and porch, those materials were salvaged and used for a unique, sentimental purpose further enhancing the structure’s historic value. Volunteers used the logs to hand-carve 25 church-style pews for permanent seating. And in 1954, a second addition provided a west wing to the structure, allowing even more space for socializing and worship services. Both improvements were constructed in a genuine attempt to maintain the design, materials and workmanship of the original log cabin style of architecture.
Third and fourth generations of families continue to enjoy the cultural traditions started at the House in 1942. Many non-locals who have made Red River their summer residences have watched the town evolve into a summer recreational playground, and have precious childhood memories of events at the Community House.
Dallasite Bruce McShan recalls that he and his brother waited all year to celebrate the Fourth of July at the Community House. “My wife Sheri and our daughter Jodi still enjoy many of the same family activities that were celebrated at the House during its first July 4th event – parades, sack races, egg tossing and other ‘Slice of Americana’ games.”
New Braunfels, TX resident Sue Davis recalls festive summer evenings of square dancing with dozens of friends and family, as children delightfully gathered on the dance floor for their favorite – the Hokey-Pokey. “We have four generations that look forward to spending summers in Red River, and the Community House is the focal point for all of our family activities.”
Red Riverites, too, are anxious to tell of the importance of the Community House to their quality of life in the town. Noted Judy Brunson, “Since 1968 we’ve attended church services at the House, and it’s especially heartwarming to see so many faces within generations of growing families in attendance year after year.”
“The Community House has definitely strengthened the character of our town,” says resident and board president Lottie Tweed. “I’ve had the privilege of watching countless school children participate in programs and events at the House, and there is nothing more gratifying than welcoming them back after they marry, start their own families, and foster the traditions which began at the Community House back in 1942.”
Red River’s gold mine, the Red River Community House, has been binding the community together for 62 years by providing a place for people of all ages to enjoy the spirit of friendship, worship and to take part in year-round activities with their families. The landmark structure, so reminiscent of the town’s mining heritage, will always represent a time in the town’s history when settlers sought avenues for relaxation, entertainment and social companionship. But not until a devoted group of five individuals followed their dream of building a unique structure to unify their community did the historic Red River Community House become a reality.
Each summer thousands pass through the historic doors at Red River’s Community House. And each individual will become a part of the proud history that has made this structure a gold mine since 1942.
D’Et Dixon is a freelance writer from Dallas, Texas. Her works have appeared in numerous publications.
This article appeared on page 20 of High Country 2004.