By Donna Burton
When you walk through the double door entry the word “sanctuary” takes on a more real meaning. You are transported back through time when our lives centered around the activities of our local churches.
In 1912, there was no Route 66 or Interstate 40. Conway was a small town but the center of a “bigger than you would think” rural community. With horse and buggy being the predominate means of travel, one did not venture far from home. For pioneers like “20” something Ida Calliham, having the opportunity to practice your faith was just as important as having a school for your children and food on the table. But getting the 10 miles to Panhandle, the 15 miles to Groom or the 20 miles to Claude was just about impossible much of the time. Mrs. Calliham began a campaign to build a little church on the prairie. With her horse and buggy making tracks where there were not even roads, she solicited for donations and organized fund raisers. On the day of its dedication, there were so many horse and buggies surrounding the little church in photographs, it looked like the church was surrounded by a large herd of buffalo!
For more than 85 years the little white church was an icon on the plains. It survived the dust bowl, prairie fires, the rise and fall of Route 66 and the implementation of Interstate 40. It served area residents and travelers alike as a landmark, as a place of worship and religious education, a port in the storm when panhandle weather called a halt to travel, and a very important social center for a rural community.
The little church was closed as a place of worship in the 70’s with the loss of members moving to town and the lack of a preacher. In the late 80’s, Melba Miller and Mildred Burgin, daughters of Ida Calliham, began a campaign to preserve the church for prosperity. While the other members of the Calliham family shouldered the responsibility to maintain the building at the Conway location, Miller raised the money to have the church moved to the Square House Museum complex where it is now a featured “living” exhibit.
The creaking of the wooden floors and smell of polish on the wooden pews takes you back to a time when life was simpler...when you opened all the windows to let the breeze cool the congregation that belted out “The Old Rugged Cross”. Then the only “stink” in church was when a mother skunk made a nest under the foundation of the building, and members were reminded of the brotherhood of man by calling each other “Brother and Sister”.
The podium, the pastor’s chair, the floors and pews, the windows, and walls are all original. The piano and organ while not original are period pieces and have ties through the same family.
It is a place where souls were saved and lives were changed, babies christened, couples married, loved ones buried and if you were lucky...you found Jesus in this little church on the prairie.
Kay Burk, granddaughter of Ida Calliham, and her husband Charles are heading up the celebration of its 100th birthday.
The event will be held on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 in conjunction with the Museum Day celebration. Everyone is invited to come see this historical treasure and join in some old fashioned fun.
Attend the church of your choice that morning then join the Museum Board, the Calliham descendants and all of Carson County at 12:30 with an old fashioned “dinner on the grounds”. The meat will be provided, just bring a covered dish or dessert and an appetite! A brief celebration service and singing will be held after.
The Celebration Committee is hoping to reconnect all of those who have connections to this historical monument as well as those who just love the history of our area. If you know of someone who might need a special invitation or should be invited, please contact Charles or Kay Burk at 806-537-5121.
Don’t miss the chance to live out a bit of history and celebrate this special event on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 12:30.