By Jacob Sanchez
The railroad brought life to Tucumcari in 1901; more accurately, the city exists because the railroad set up shop here, bringing people, mail and freight.
The trains were also responsible for bringing organized religion to Tucumcari. They brought Methodists who formed the new community’s first church.
Today, Quay County is home to 34 documented churches. Tucumcari alone has 21 active churches.
“Catholicism was basically here (among ranchers who were here before Tucumcari), but the first church in the area was Methodist,” said Debra Whittington, author of “In the Shadow of the Mountain,” a Quay County history book.
Most of the early settlers were Methodists who arrived via the railroad. The settlers who were in the area before the establishment of Tucumcari and Quay County were ranchers and dryland farmers.
“A lot of them were on grandpa’s land,” Tucumcari Historical Museum staff member Joy Young said. “This land has been handed down generation to generation.”
A group of ladies met in 1902 and organized the First Methodist Episcopal Church. That name would change throughout the next 67 years.
The First Methodist Episcopal Church called the corner of First and Aber streets its home until the early 1970s when the congregation had grown too big.
The size increase is thanks in part to three mergers — in 1910, 1939 and 1969. The last merger also brought the church a new and final name: Center Street United Methodist Church.
Even without an organized church, local pioneers found ways to worship together.
“(People) met together. They were so hungry to have a church to go to because a lot of them had been out in this country,” Whittington said. “They really desired that worship together. They were very good at doing that.”
Quay County’s early Jewish community met regularly in private residences.
“There was quite a Jewish presence in the early days. They didn’t have enough members for a synagogue but they would meet together,” Whittington said.
Despite three founders of Tucumcari being Jewish, the community soon dwindled and has no synagogue today.
Catholicism had an influence before Tucumcari and other towns of Quay County were established. Priest Alfonso Halterman of Puerto de Luna would come to the area three times a month to conduct Mass in people’s homes.
When the original county courthouse was built in 1904, the Catholics decided they would have Mass there. This continued until a church was built.
“It wasn’t until 1910 that (the Catholics) built the first church here,” Whittington said. “The priest would go to San Jon and Logan and hold Mass there as well.”
The first Mass held in St. Anne’s Catholic Church was held on the first Sunday of Lent in 1910. The church’s first priest, Jules Moline, named the church after his mother.
The Baptists are another group that met in homes before establishing their church on Jan. 4, 1904. They named their congregation the First Missionary Baptist Church and elected J.M. Newman as their first pastor. Over time, the church decided to drop “Missionary” from its name and call itself the First Baptist Church.
“These pioneers went through unbelievable hardships,” Whittington said. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things (such as) the epidemics and natural disasters. … Despite all that they could still come together and still have their joy. I don’t think they could have lived without their faith.”