“Economic development,” I recently suggested to one small-town mayor, “is first a reflection of community pride and enthusiasm.”

I’ve learned this rule by observing popular Texas travel destinations. If you want your community to draw visitors, first enthusiastically document its unique traits. Don’t take anything for granted. Even though you’ve driven past the same century-old buildings for years, that doesn’t mean that a visitor might not find the buildings worth a stop.

So community spirit means understanding local history and sharing the story. That creative fire can be sparked by an individual who is willing to take action following personal vision and energy.

One recent example of such an individual project involves a century-old church that sits along US 281 near the community of Selden, between Hico and Stephenville.

The white frame building, shuttered by the dwindling congregation, faced an uncer­tain future. The original structure was built just after 1900. A tornado took it mostly down about 50 years later, but the congregation rebuilt. Would it experience another rebirth?

The church (previously Pleasant Hill Methodist) sits adjacent to the ranch owned by Jane Hickie, who lives a few miles away. She made the decision to acquire the church property and organize a renovation. Long story short, the reenergized building, with landscaping, decks, and au­dio-visual capability, is now The Venable Center (thevenablecenter.com), named for the family that originally donated the land for the church and the nearby Indian Creek Cemetery.

In early June, members of the congregation gathered to tell stories of the old days and listen to the Bosque River Boys perform old-time favor­ites. I asked a member of the band about why the church was special to him and he said, “We used to come out here all the time for Sunday sing­ing.” Clearly a gem of local history.

In personal accounts of church history, one woman said that her mother had been married in the church, she had been married in the church, and now she hoped her daughter could be married in the same building. Proof that the old church held memories for those with roots in the community. That’s the kind of preservation that builds community spirit. And economic impact.

From the August 2014 issue

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