October 13, 2021 545 PM
RUIDOSA — For generations, the crumbling adobe church by the side of the road in Ruidosa has piqued the curiosity of motorists on the northern reaches of FM170, better known as the River Road. The structure’s distinctive center arch offers a clear view through the belly of the building: to one side, the winding highway and to the other, the towering mountain ranges along the river in Mexico.
The building, formerly known as El Corazon Sagrado de la Iglesia de Jesus (Sacred Heart of the Church of Jesus), hasn’t held mass since the mid-1900s. Passers-by are few in this remote border outpost of 17 people, but the place leaves an impression.
At the time the church was built in 1915, the town boasted a hundred residents, a school, three general stores and a post office. The church’s architecture reflects the town’s ambition: it was a traditional Catholic Church with two bell towers and an arched vestibule. The only difference from thousands of other Catholic Churches around the world with this layout is that this one was built with adobe brick, the region’s indigenous building material.
According to historian David Keller, as the residents of Ruidosa set out baking mud bricks, the structure was “arguably the most monumental religious structure in the lower Big Bend.” The adobe arches are still believed to be the biggest in Texas.
In 1916, the Elephant Butte Dam finished construction outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, sealing the town’s fate. The dam was the first and most dramatic in a series of federal projects to tame the Rio Grande. Over the next few decades, the river stopped running seasonally between El Paso and Presidio, devastating local agriculture.
By 1954, the post office had closed and local businesses soon followed. The saints and sacraments were taken from the church, and gradually the building fell into disrepair. By the turn of the century, the building was in such rough shape that the Diocese of El Paso recommended it be torn down.
The Friends of the Ruidosa Church, a nonprofit organization helmed by Keller, aims to preserve this unique slice of border history. The Friends will be hosting an open house on Saturday, October 23.
Though the group has privately been hard at work repairing the adobe, it’s their first time hosting an event for the greater public since the church property was turned over from Presidio County for restoration and repair in 2019. “It’s a bit of an experiment to see if people will make the trip,” said Boardmember Clara Bensen.
Those in high-clearance vehicles with good tires can take the Pinto Canyon Road route from Marfa, offering breathtaking views of the Chinati Mountains. Passenger cars will want to drive to Presidio. From Presidio, head north on FM 170 — a less direct route, but no less scenic.
Guests are invited to tour the historic structure, which will be decked out with an immersive art installation by Color Condition, a pair of artists from Dallas and Austin. At noon, Keller will lead an adobe brick-making workshop, and at 2 p.m. Presidio’s Mariachi Santa Cruz will perform. Food and refreshments will be served throughout the event.
Bensen and other board members hope that the restored structure can serve both as a reminder of the past and an investment in the community’s future. “The goal is not to restore the church and let it sit there empty,” she said. “We want it to be an actively-used space, despite its remoteness.”
The Friends of the Ruidosa Church invite you to stop by 11 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 23. The church is located just south of the junction of FM 170 and FM 2810. More detailed directions and information can be found at their website, ruidosachurch.org.