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History of Candlelight at the Ranch

History of the National Ranching Heritage Center’s Candlelight at the Ranch

About the National Ranching Heritage Center (NRHC)

Although the museum and historical park at Texas Tech University was not formally dedicated until 1976, the concept of a center to preserve the history of ranching began in 1966 with a unique partnership between Texas Tech and the Ranching Heritage Association, a non-profit member organization that supports the efforts of the center.

Today, with all but five of its 55 historic structures between 100 and 200 years old, the historical park speaks volumes about the frontier settlers who lived in those structures and created legends and history in the process.

The historic structures at the NRHC have been chronologically arranged to exhibit the evolution of ranch life from the late 1700s through the mid-1900s. All the structures but one were relocated, restored and furnished for period correctness. A mile-and-a-half of paved pathways provides wheelchair and stroller access to each structure. Posted signs give a history of the structures in both English and Spanish.

In addition to the 19-acre historical park, the NRHC has 42 life-size bronze outdoor art pieces and a 44,000-square-foot museum with seven galleries featuring permanent as well as temporary exhibits of art and photography and artifacts that capture historical and contemporary Western life. The NRHC’s newest addition is the Cash Family Ranch Life Learning Center which is an indoor and outdoor comprehensive learning experience designed to be an educational resource for visitors from all sectors of life.

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What is Candlelight at the Ranch 

From 6 – 9 p.m., on Dec. 8 and 9, the NRHC will hold its 45th annual Candlelight at the Ranch. According to Jim Bret Campbell, Executive Director at the NRHC, Candlelight has become a Christmas tradition in the South Plains, as they expect to have 4500 people each night at the event. 

With more than 5000 luminaries throughout the historical park, Candlelight is “truly magical.” Guests can purchase hot chocolate and cider in the 6666 Ranch Barn and kettle corn on the patio. Also, for those of you who made the good list, Santa Claus will be in the Pitch Fork Pavilion.

About 20 of the 55 historical structures are manned by ranch host volunteers who re-enact how the folks living in the various structures would have celebrated the holidays during their respective periods.  

Structures like the Jowell House or the Harrell House many times would have been a family home. So volunteers in this structure are stringing popcorn and cutting snowflakes out of paper. 

In the homes that celebrated with Christmas trees, they would go cut their Christmas tree themselves. Campbell says that this is a vital part of the Candlelight tradition, as they go cut trees for the event on a nearby ranch. 

At the 1909 Queen-Anne style Barton House, Christmas would have been a community gathering, as the house was the centerpiece for the Barton site, a townsite northwest of here. Therefore, young volunteers can be seen prepping for a party and cooking a Christmas meal.

Oftentimes, visitors see a lone cowboy, whittling and making things he would give to children in that area or to members of his family. Many cowboys spent Christmas alone in the bunkhouse, so they would play music and do things to celebrate the season even though they were separated from their families. 

It takes about 300 volunteers a night to have Candlelight at the Ranch. The theatrical and musical community shine at this event as they provide choirs and singing groups that give life to the park. The Canterbury Society conducts the Episcopal service in Trinity Mission Church while Boy Scout troops and junior historians help guide visitors and much more during the event. 

The International Cultural Center (ICC) at Texas Tech also joins in on this event to host Weihnachtfest: A Celebration of German Christmas Traditions from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8. Traditions include the Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble of the Texas Tech School of Music, crafts, gingerbread cookies and sausage. The ICC is located within easy walking distance of the NRHC at 601 Indiana Avenue and the event is free to the public.

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The History of Candlelight at the Ranch

The first Candlelight at the Ranch was held on Dec. 14, 1978, and sponsored by the Docent Guild of the Museum. Initially called “Candlelight Christmas,” the inaugural event hosted more than 1,000 visitors who enjoyed scenes and music from Christmases past, lit by candlelight and lanterns. 

At this time, the NRHC was only open for special tours guided by volunteer docents, so this gave visitors a unique way to experience the center. Same as today, volunteers sold hot chocolate, cold cider, popcorn and Christmas cookies. 

Most of the music was provided by the Country and Bluegrass Music Department at the South Plains College. Levelland. Other musicians lending their talent to the community-oriented evening were from the Texas Tech University Music Department, Lubbock public schools, the Docent Guild and the German Department at Texas Tech. 

According to Campbell, for the past 50 years, volunteers and curators have been pulling together all of the history of these structures and how the folks who lived in them celebrated the holidays and lived their everyday lives. The current curator is Doctor Robert Tidwell, the Helen DeVitt Jones endowed Director of Collections, Exhibits and Research. Doctor. Tidwell works with volunteers and student interns to maintain the historical park and ensure Candlelight at the Ranch is led with time-period correct information. 

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According to Campbell, the only reason the NRHC exists is because of the ranching community across the country. 

“We are supported by the Ranching Heritage Association which has almost 1600 members in 42 states, so we really are international,” Campbell said. “One of the things that is amazing to me is that many of those folks have never actually visited this facility. They just believe in our mission and what we do here to tell the ranching heritage story.” 

Campbell says that even though Lubbock is growing, it is still grounded in its roots of agriculture and ranching. 

“One of the great stories about Lubbock is, while it is the Hub City for so much of the medical needs of this community across the South Plains and even into Eastern New Mexico, it is still an agri-centered city. So much of our economy is based on ranching history and I feel that will never change.” 

To learn more about Candlelight at the Ranch and the National Ranching Heritage Center, check out their website at 

3 responses to “History of the National Ranching Heritage Center’s Candlelight at the Ranch”

  1. Olivia Foster Avatar
    Olivia Foster

    Looks so fun

  2. @e_ltie Avatar

    I love Candlelight at the Ranch! It’s the perfect Christmas tradition. The music is always so good.

  3. Catherine Molinar Avatar
    Catherine Molinar

    This event has such a special place in my heart, growing up my parents would take my siblings and I every year! I enjoyed this as child and still do as an adult, as it brings back some of my favorite memories growing up. I absolutely encourage those who have never been!

One of the great stories about Lubbock is, while it is the Hub City for so much of the medical needs of this community across the South Plains and even into Eastern New Mexico, it is still an agricentered city.

Jim Bret Campbell