By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
It’s just a little country church. But for those few left who grew up in the mostly vanished community of Inez, memories of Christmas gatherings and summers with “dinner-on-the-grounds” linger.
The memories and the little church itself may now outlive the farm families who attended services there — the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division voted at its Dec. 7 meeting to list the Inez Methodist Church, built in 1916, on the state level of the National Register of Historic Places.
Inez was a farming community approximately 20 miles southeast of Portales near Rogers and just five miles from the Texas border. Today the church, its parsonage and the Inez Cemetery are about all that remain of the community.
“I think it’s (preservation) a good idea because there’s not too many of the little old churches left. They’ve been moved away and what not,” said Nancy Ridgley of Portales, who was born in Inez in 1933 and spent her childhood in that area.
Ridgley says the church was part of her earliest memories in the community. She said she enjoyed the gatherings at the church as a child because it was a chance to be with other children, but she particularly remembers Christmas gatherings.
“Everybody didn’t have a Christmas tree. There wasn’t always the money,” Ridgley said.
Ridgley said the community would gather in the church, where there would be a tree, singing and a sack of goodies for each of the youngsters.
“It might not have been much, but every kid got something,” she recalled.
Ridgley says that Christmas goodie sack produced the first orange she had ever had. She remembers learning on her own that the peel was bitter and not good to eat.
Harold Belcher, another long-time resident of the area, also recalled Christmas at the Inez church.
“That little church would fill up at Christmas,” Belcher said. “We had a great time.”
He said the Greathouse family would fill mesh sacks for the children with twisted ribbon candy and apples and oranges.
He remembers pump-up Coleman style lanterns in the church and lots of children. Because they couldn’t go to town (Portales) very often, it was the center of community life.
Cindy Harth, who lives within sight of the church building, says just being able to look out and see it across the field is a comfort and pleasure to her.
She remembers Christmas programs held in the church in later years. But she recalls even then the wire and sheets, which were used to separate the single room church for Sunday school, still hung from the ceiling.
“It’s just a little church that’s been in the area since the early 1900s, and we think it’s worth keeping around,” Harth said.
John Murphey, register coordinator, assembled much of the early history of Inez through oral history accounts over the last few years, according to a press release from HPD.
“Despite its simplicity, the church is able to tell a story of the Anglo settlement of southeastern New Mexico,” Murphey said.
Originally a circuit-riding preacher served the communities of Arch, Rogers, Boaz, Red Lake, Acme, Causey, Lingo and Dora, according to the nomination form to HPD.
Inez’s first official pastor, Rev. L.L. Hurston, arrived in 1914. He visited his congregation on a little white horse named Possum before a church was built. The group began fundraising for a building, holding box suppers and plays and selling cakes and holding “Ugliest Man” and “Prettiest Girl” contests.
The church was built slowly as materials were obtained, under the direction of Fred Westbrook. When it was completed in 1916, the members were proud that it had been constructed without financial help from the Methodist Annual Conference.
The church remained vital into the 1950s, but membership began to taper off in the latter part of that decade. By 1965, many had moved away, and the church fell inactive. It was was reopened in 1974 and stayed active until 1988, when it once again fell on tough times. In 1996 the church closed for good, the Methodist Conference turned the property over to the Inez Cemetery Association, and the name was changed to Inez Community Church. Now only an occasional wedding or funeral is held there.
Just like the days when the little church was born, community members raised funds for its preservation. After $12,000 was raised, windows and doors were replaced and a metal roof was installed, keeping the church out of danger from the elements.
More work, including replacing the stucco is needed, says cemetery association member Belcher.
Harth’s late husband Chester Harth, whose grandmother, Annetta Shepard, homesteaded at Inez and attended the church in its earliest days, was instrumental in assuring the church’s preservation.
In an interview with Murphey for the nomination document, Chester Harth recalled what the church meant to him.
“It taught me the facts of life and what it took to live in a community,” he said.
In the document the Roosevelt County farmer remembered when the church closed, “they closed it just like someone died.” Rev. Gorton Smith of Clovis performed the last service and a small plastic plaque was affixed to the interior that read, “In loving memory of the early settlers who founded and built this church.”
• Rectangular plan 25×50 feet
• Gable front with steeply pitched roof
• Wood frame building with white stucco
• Metal roof has replaced original composite shingles
• Vinyl windows of the same style and size replaced original
• Single large room
• Walls are exposed, random-length boards painted olive green.
• Four drop pendant lights replace original kerosene lamps.
• Eight pews are upholstered in red velveteen fabric.
• Old pinkish-brown Cokesbury hymnals, some dating to 1915, sit in the pews.
• The altar is a single step up with upright piano on one corner and a wood cross on the wall.
• A ventilator pipe reveals the former location of a pot-bellied stove.