Pioneer Historical Society of Bent County History
On January 12, 1959, the Conservation Committee of the Business & Professional Women's Club met with representatives from various service clubs to discuss possibilities and community needs of forming an historical society of Las Animas. These included the BPW, Intea Sese, Woman's Club, AAVW, Lion's, C of C, Kiwanis, and Democrat Leader.
Thelma Flinn was chairperson. She is quoted as saying that "this is the Centennial Year for Colorado; historical landmarks, museum pieces and many tangible articles may soon disappear if we don't move to preserve them. These will go to the State Historical Society instead of remaining in southeast Colorado where they rightly belong."
On January 30, 1959, the second meeting was held to discuss how to organize this group and to set goals. Goals identified were acquiring Boggsville, preserving the history of the Arkansas Valley, working for reconstruction of Old Bent's Fort, and educating student through the school. Dues were set at $5.00 a year for individuals, $10.00 for a sustaining membership, and $100 for a life membership.
E. A. Thaxton made the motion to adopt the name "Pioneer Historical Society," which was suggested by C. W. Hurd. The first officers were Thelma Flinn, president; Rex Bennett, vice president; Mabel Smock, secretary; and Gula Adams, treasurer. Other board members included, John Flinn, Dorothy Boyd, and Margaret Shaw.
Meetings were held at the Memorial School and featured a speaker (usually an old-timer from this area), refreshments or a pot-luck dinner. Speakers included Dr. Howard Snoddy, A. B. Ham, Mrs. W. P. Morley, Eph Lewis, Alice Murray Cooper, May Murray Washburn and Mrs. Alice Carson (widow of Charlie Carson - oldest son of Kit Carson). Special tribute was given on February 1, 1960, to two deceased members, Leonard Hudnall and John W. Rawlings.
Charter memberships reached 270 family names by September 1959. The Membership Committee was headed by Nellie Grantham. The first dues were paid by Gladys Greenlaw, a school teacher. Another charter member of note was Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson.
One of the first projects was to search for a museum site. The Leedham house was considered (where Loaf-n-Jug now stands), as well as Victory Market (grocery store formerly owned by Garvey McBride, south of Leedham home), or to build a new building. They finally rented a room in the north end of the bank building as temporary display space. Harry Marshall, President, reported at the February 1, 1960, meeting that Kenneth Shaw was building cabinets and Gilbert Martenson was working on a bust to display a military coat.
The March 7, 1960 meeting was held in the IOOF Hall and a program was given on IOOF history, refreshments were served by the Rebekah ladies in period costumes. On May 2, 1960, the possibility of using the old 1876 rock jail as a museum space was brought up by Nellie Grantham. The County Commissioners could make it available on a long-term lease as a minimal fee. The Prisoner of War adobe building would also be available.
On May 19, 1960, joint meetings of the Pioneer Historical Society Board of Directors and the City Council were held to determine community support and if the community really wanted a museum. The final vote was 38 to 21 in favor of the Old Jail space for a museum. An estimate of $5,700 was given for the repair and clean-up of the POW building. The PHS paid as they worked as there was not enough money initially in the bank account. On December 5, 1960, work was in progress on the restoration of the POW building complex for a museum.
The Pioneer Historical Society of Bent County currently exists to preserve the history and heritage of Bent County through the facilitation of programs and activities that interpret the cultural and architectural history of the region and the operation and preservation of historic sites.
In 1985 the historic site of Boggsville, falling within a 110 acres site, was given to the PHSBC. The Boggsville Revitalization Committee of the PHSBC was then formed to organize, research, rebuild, and develop the site as an interpretive center of the early development of farming, ranching, and western settlement in Colorado's southeastern plains.
The PHSBC published Bent County History in 1986. The third printing of this historical record was completed in 1993. The book continues to be distributed through the Boggsville Historic Site trade room, the John W. Rawlings Heritage Center, the Bent County Development Foundation, and the Las Animas/Bent County Chamber of Commerce.
In 1999, the PHSBC was able to purchase (with funding assistance from the Colorado Historical Society, State Historical Fund) the 1898 Odd Fellows Lodge #11 in Las Animas to be restored and rehabilitated as the John W. Rawlings Heritage Center. The two-story sandstone building houses museum exhibit space, community art gallery, event space, archival library, and climate controlled storage.