History of the John W. Rawlings Heritage Center & Museum
The John W. Rawlings Heritage Center was acquired by the PHSBC in 1999. It is open to the public as a museum, art gallery, event space, archival library and storage, and PHSBC office.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) was founded in the United States in 1819. On September 5, 1870, J.H. Arnold and Grand Master C.P. Elder founded the Colorado Chapter of the organization in Kit Carson. Later, C.P. Elder moved the IOOF Lodge to Las Animas. The two-story, sandstone building, which became the IOOF Las Animas Lodge, was built on the corner of 6th Street and Bent Avenue in 1898. The IOOF met every Tuesday during the year with a special convention during the month of October. IOOF meetings followed parliamentary procedures with a Secretary, Treasurer, Vice Grand, and the Noble Grand who were elected every seven months.
The building was to serve two major purposes. One was to be the Lodge’s home, a place for its ceremonies and other activities. The other purpose was to yield income to pay off stockholders and support Lodge activities, a common plan for Odd Fellows Halls of two stories. The downstairs space, divided into two, sometimes more, spaces, was rented more or less long term to various enterprises to earn income, including a vaudeville theatre and a Post Office. The second floor was divided into two large spaces, one on the south end of the building and one on the north. The south end, the larger, was apparently the room in which the Lodge met and held its ceremonies. The features of the south room as it exists today still show that it was used as the Lodge Room, despite damage by fire at one time. There is a raised platform around the edge of the room to allow members to view the acting out of the stories during Lodge ceremonies as well as a large Odd Fellows Three Link symbol on the south wall.
The Lodge Room itself was not initially rented out to other organizations. Only in 1901 was it proposed that the trustees rent out the Lodge Room also, allowing its use for “the best advantage for lodge purposes, but tobacco in all forms to be excluded.” This expanded use of the Lodge Room from that date would explain the movie screen now seen on the wall and local memories of dances held in the south end as well. By 1901, the light plant was no longer needed. Las Animas had an electrical utility and the Lodge arranged with the electric company to install electric lights in the new Hall, but only in the Lodge Room.
For lack of members and ill health, the Lodge closed in 1983, and was consolidated with the La Junta Lodge No. 74 the next year. The handsome stone 100-year-old building, a landmark for so many years, built with so much pride and hard work by its members, was sold and long stood empty.
The PHSBC purchased the building in 1999 with the help of local business owners and the Colorado State Historical Fund. Historic restoration and rehabilitation was broken into six phases and completed in 2011. From 1999-2001 an historic structure assessment and rehabilitation master plan was completed. Phase I: the masonry stabilization and restoration of the Bay 5 (North portion, now the entrance) storefront was completed in 2002-2003. Phase II: the hazardous materials abatement and the interiors and storefronts of Bays 1 and 2 were completed in 2004-2005. Phase III: the restoration of the interiors of Bays 3 and 5, installation of an ADA elevator and the adoption of an historic easement were completed in 2006-2007. Phase IV: the interior restoration of the 2nd floor was completed in 2008. Phase V: the insulation of the crawl space and repairing the exterior doors was completed in 2010. Phase VI: the installation of the perimeter improvements and exterior exhibit installation was completed in 2011.
Restoration and rehabilitation of the JWRHC cost around $2.35 million. The PHSBC greatly appreciates the support of the Colorado Historical Society, State Historical Fund, Colorado Department of Transportation – Transportation Enhancement Funds, Rawlings Family, Colorado Department of Local Affairs - Energy Impact Funds, Gates Family Foundation, First National Bank of Las Animas, El Pomar Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture-Rural Development, TnT Hardware, Boettcher Foundation, Governor’s Energy Office, Jay and Anna Showalter, Richard and Lorna Jorgenson, Las Animas Urban Renewal Authority, Save Our History, Bent County, Bent County Development Foundation, Boggsville Players, Bill and Nancy Long, Dale and Verna Leighty, Thaxton’s Market, Las Animas City, Jack Lowe, Bill and Elsie Howland, Harrell and Ollie Ridley, McClave State Bank, Kenneth Kendal King Foundation, Wells Fargo Bank, Fox Family Foundation, Las Animas True Blue, Las Animas Woman’s Civic Club, Robert Appel, and Kathryn S. Finau for making this project possible.