Preservation of Cultural Resources in the Guadalupe Mountains: the Frijole Ranch Project, Part 1

The Frijole Ranch is the most visited cultural resource at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I believe that it has come to its current level of popularity, due to its accessibility, architectural interest, and function as an access point to some trails of the park. Perhaps most notably, the Frijole Ranch is imperative for visitors to understand the settlement history of lands located in the trans-Pecos region of western Texas. This is because the Frijole Ranch provides a link to the early-day cattle ranching and homesteading activities in the region. The Frijole Ranch was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 because of its significance and association with early agriculture, ranching and settlement activities in the region.  It is a remarkable example of a well preserved cultural landscape.  In this blog post I will tell a little bit of history of the Frijole Ranch, as well as outline the current preservation efforts happening there.

Frijole Ranch Complex

Frijole Ranch Complex

After the civil war, longhorn cattle ranchers moved into the grasslands of the Guadalupe Mountains from Texas and Oklahoma to took advantage of the natural setting of the place, using it as an open range for grazing their animals. Following that temporary burst of the cattle ranchers, the area was settled by a few spirited homesteaders who began to explore the possibilities of subsistence-farming in and around the Guadalupes.
Frijole Ranch House, 1909

Frijole Ranch House, 1909

The Rader brothers were the first raising stock pioneers in the Frijole Ranch area, and they chose a strategic location contiguous to the year round spring that still gushes water. In the mid-1870s they constructed a two-room rock residence, which presently holds the living and dining rooms of the front portions of the current ranch house.
The Smiths

The Smiths

The Frijole Ranch settlement was not deliberately developed until 1906, when the Smith family turned the land into a single-family farmstead, utilizing the existing natural resources to their advantage. Crop fields, gardens, and an orchard were enclosed by fences, and irrigated using nearby springs. The built environment of the ranch was developed in response to the needs and traditions to the Smith family. Additions to the original house and new accessory buildings were built to accommodate family members, guests and visitors, as well as improve the homestead activities. In 1941, the Frijole property was purchased by the Hunter-Grisham Corporation, and became part of a large commercial ranching operation,
The Kinkaids

The Kinkaids

with the introduction of cattle, sheep and goats. During this period the house remained as a single-family residence, home of the family of Noel Kinkaid, who was hired by Judge Hunter to manage the goat herd. The Frijole Ranch continued to be used for commercial ranching operations until its acquisition in 1969 by the NPS. Park rangers recognized the interpretative value of the place, and advocated for the adaptive reuse of the building as offices, reflecting the shortage of administrative facilities at that moment. From 1969 to 1980 a park ranger lived at the Frijole Ranch house as a way to embrace the cultural resource management principles of the NPS by using structures as a way to encourage its preservation. In 1983, the Ranch house was adapted to be used as a
Frijole Ranch, Guadalupe National Park. 1970s

Frijole Ranch, Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 1970s

ranger division headquarters. In the 1990s, the ranch was adapted to be a cultural interpretative center completely open to the public.  It continues in that use today. Since the NPS acquired ownership of the ranch, several rounds of repairs, rehabilitation, and restoration treatments have been completed at the ranch. A wide scope of labor from stabilization projects, landscaping, and electrical installation, to construction of visitor facilities have been implemented at Frijole Ranch. Recent assessment reports of conditions at the ranch house revealed the adverse effects of a coat of white latex paint, present since a round of 1980s preservation efforts. Considering the historic building technology, the modern layer of paint has a detrimental effect on historic buildings whose wall systems are based on earthen mortar and stone. The latex paint has a tendency to trap moisture rather than allow stone and mortar to breath when wet, leading to the exhaustion of the stone and historic mortar, and thus the weakening of the wall structure.
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Frijole Ranch Current Conditions

The main project for my internship this summer consists of performing the recommendations for the Frijole Ranch house´s exterior finishes, based on the condition assessment report. The first stage of the project is the exploration of adequate paint removal techniques, followed by the experimentation process needed to replicate the historic mortar in what refers to color, texture and strength. The final phase of the preservation treatment would be the repointing of the walls, using the historic mortar mix. As graduate student in Historic Preservation this preservation project represents a unique hands-on opportunity to apply the knowledge acquired in the classrooms, especially when considering the importance of the Frijole Ranch as a historic cultural resource in a National Park. The next post will be talking about the progress of the project.

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