by Nicole Munger
(from The Original Ranch Palaver, May/June 1999)
Have you ever wondered about Lakewood's beginnings? Let me take you on a historical journey from the 1800s until now...
Lakewood's history starts with Old Seven Springs, which is a few miles south of where we are now. Seven Springs existed during the Lincoln County War and cattle drives. The town was made up of a six-room house which at times contained a post office, a store, a saloon and boarding house, and probably a blacksmith shop directly across the road in a small house.
The area is Township 20 South, Range 26 East, Section 9 and 16,800 yards east of the old cemetery. Today, the ruins are still there along with the road which led to the place in much earlier years. In 1873 the Reed Ranch, now Lakewood, was established by Dick Reed and George Hoag. They established a General Store. In about 1876 Reed died and was buried in the family graveyard. Hoag sold out and went to Colorado. In that same year, Bob Olinger arrived and was joined by his brother Wallace and took over the general store. By 1882 Seven Rivers was the most populated township in the entire range. In January 1879 a large corral and ranch facilities were surveyed and are unnamed. By means of description this was the old Beckwith Ranch; it was watered by a hand-dug ditch from the end of North Seven River Branch. Beckwith is described as being the first settler in the vicinity, having arrived as early as 1870.
In 1879 there were only six home sites within three to six miles of each other in the whole valley. Then, with the arrival of a wagon train on September 22, 1880, the beginning of the village of Seven Rivers was established when a Mr. Rheinboldt bought the adobe store from a Captain Sanson. The adobe store was a four-room adobe house on the bank of Seven Rivers on the south side. It became a general merchandise store, post office and saloon combined. The only building at this time was this store surrounded by prairie.
The name Seven Rivers came from seven springs, each forming a stream that emptied into the main channel and then ran into the Pecos River. This stream ran right by the store. By 1884 improvements were making rapid strides - a restaurant and boarding house which were one hundred yards from the store and four blacksmith shops. The first Deputy Sheriff in 1885 was Joseph Wood. There were two stores, one saloon, one hotel, one cattle inspector, several freighters and four blacksmiths. This was the village in 1885. Later another saloon, a drugstore, a boot and saddle repair shop, and two more saloons were built after 1885. Seven Rivers ceased to exist as a town in 1896.
But things started happening in what we call Lakewood today. On November 23, 1884 the post office opened and was first called McMillen, with Wallace Holt as postmaster. Its name changed to Lakewood in 1904. Postmaster Eleanor Johnson is the 19th postmaster to serve the rural area office since 1885! The SKP's help keep the post office going! The office underwent a face lift in 1992.
And what about the building almost across from the post office at the railroad tracks? What's the story of the skeletal remains of the roof standing in stark contrast against the clear blue sky? When you take a close look you can barely make out the words Lakewood Canning Factory: Built in 1911. Just 11 years later in 1922, the doors were locked. The building is not very big by modern standards, it cost $4,500 to build, and the walls are still standing! You can still find old rusted cans in the rubble. During the canning season, late summer and early fall, about 85 people, mostly women, processed up to 27,000 cans of tomatoes a day. They made $6.00 a day when the dollar was not inflated.
The church across the street was later bought from the Eddy County School Board for $700. Church members later removed the upper floor and built an addition on back where the sanctuary is now. One last reminder of that time is the Baptist Church sign that sits on the steps which formerly led students through the school yard fence. And when you listen very closely you can still hear the children's voices and laughter while they were at play in the school yard. In the early years the baptizing was done in the Pecos River and at an old swimming hole in the South Seven Rivers.
Lakewood was becoming a beautiful little city with a new school, livery stable, fine hotel, water works and buildings going up in lively fashion. There were other activities from community turnouts to baseball games, picnics, local talent, and community plays. The train had a regular schedule to pick up passengers to take them to Clovis. The last passenger train that stopped here was in the early 1950's. We can still hear the whistle in the middle of the night when a train passes through, although today they are only freight trains.
So what happened to this once so active town? What made this factory shut their doors? According to several old-times, Crozier (the owner) who ran the entire show from maintaining the packing machines to selling products, closed the Lakewood cannery because the fields were worn out and fertilization was not practiced as it is now. Others simply say the water quit flowing. Then there are those who maintain that the few months of employment that the canning factory offered just wasn't enough. Families had to move on to bigger communities that could offer year around work. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. But whatever the cause, it was disastrous to Lakewood.
Today, other than a few scattered homes and two jail houses, the only major structures that are left to remind one that this was once a thriving community are the church, the post office and of course, the old Lakewood Cannery.
But wait a minute, we Escapees are making history in what's left of this town. Less than a mile from the Lakewood post office, in 1983 came the beginning of a new community in Lakewood, which has added a lot of color to a place packed with history.
So began a recreational vehicle park which was named Escapee Park (SKPs), The Original Ranch.
The Lakewood site is part of an 8000-acre ranch owner by Wayne Gregory. The club purchased 15 acres. Then the pioneers arrived from all over the States, with one thing in mind - working hard to make a beautiful park that all Escapees could use. These people were mostly retired and between the ages of 50 and 75. The land was divided into 118 lots and were sold at $1,200 each. The layout was done by Richard Grunenwald, Lot 81.
The unique thing about the construction of the park is that it was all done by about 100 members from all walks of life.
The clubhouse was built in 1984 by Paul Ogilvie, the sunroom was added on later. Ted Lee was the first President. Joe and Kay Peterson, the founders of this park had Lot 84, the first managers, Tom and Ronny Foster, Lot 32.
Our park is famous for its friendliness - caring and hugs. If you are not a hugger when you arrive, you will be one if you leave.
It's a little slice of heaven and we are proud of it. So all together I think the Escapee Park was the best thing that ever happened to Lakewood!!!!!