Texas Heritage, Summer 2001 Page: 26
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Dr. R. Lee Rode...
the Man Behind Buffalo Gap Historic Village
Retired gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. R. Lee Rode estimates
that he's brought more than 10,000 babies into this
world. And while just about everything else pales in comparison
to that accomplishment, Rode and his wife of 57 years, Ann,
are responsible for yet another important contribution.
Through the efforts of this couple the past has
become the present, and it comes to life at Buffalo
Gap Historic Village, a collection of historic and
replica buildings, exhibits, and artifacts. In 1977,
the Rodes purchased the original collection of Ernie
Wilson, which at that time consisted of five unrestored
buildings, and then expanded the idea to a
village concept with the addition of 12 more original
buildings and numerous artifacts and exhibits.
Why would a man with a family and a thriving
medical practice feel it necessary to pursue another
endeavor that would take so much time and energy?
My family was one of the first to settle near
Fredericksburg, in a town called Doss, and that property is
still owned by my family today. From the time I was a small
boy until I started college, I spent three months every year
on our ranch. I was fascinated by the stories that my dad
and granddad would tell me about German history and
that of my own family. Then I married my wife Ann, who
was of Armenian descent, and I learned all about that history
from her mother and father. I guess that I've always
had a love of history that was fostered at an early age.
Besides history, I also loved ranching, and when it came
time for me to decide on a profession, I had a very hard
time choosing between ranching and medicine. I finally
chose medicine, and Ann and I moved to Abilene so that
I could start my practice there. One of the first things that
we did after landing in Abilene was look for a nearby
ranch to buy. Trying to create the best of both worlds, we
wanted a ranch that was within 10 miles of Abilene so
that I could get there quickly. We discovered Buffalo Gap
and bought property there in 1958. Our ranch had previously
been owned by two families, and one of them was
the Brookresons. I used to sit for hours on the ranch and
talk to old Mr. Brookreson who told me fascinating stories
about Taylor County and the surrounding area.
I also cultivated a relationship with another resident,
Ernie Wilson, who owned several historic buildings in
Buffalo Gap and opened them up to tours on the weekend.
When Ernie died, the buildings that he owned were purchased
and used for several different purposes, but they
soon fell into disrepair. When they were offered again for
sale, several people in the area who wanted to
see them preserved began to talk about purchasing
them. By the time of the sale, though,
everyone had backed out of the deal. I just felt
so bad about losing these buildings that I
decided to purchase them on my own, not
really knowing what I would do with them. In
fact, at first we just put up a fence around the
property for protection. Slowly, though, one
by one, my family and three other men in the
area began to restore the buildings. I only
worked on the weekend out there because I
was busy with my medical practice, but all of the restoration
- except for plumbing and the electrical work - was
done by this small group of workers. I like to say that my
interest in history was always present, but my interest in
One of the things about taking on a project of this scope
is that the work is always ongoing. Buildings that are more
than 100 years old always need some kind of work. And as
Ann and I began to get up in years, the maintenance just
got to be too much. We had a family meeting and collectively
decided that it was time to let someone else manage
Buffalo Gap Historic Village. Over the years, we had
received many offers to buy the place for commercial use,
but those people wanted to move some of the buildings off
of the site, and we felt adamant that they should remain in
Buffalo Gap. So, in 1997, we began talking to the Dodge
Jones and Dian Owens Foundations, which wanted to buy
the collection and donate it. In the end, Ann and I ended
up donating half of the value of the property to the foundations
who in turn donated the entire collection to
McMurray University. It was hard for us to let go of
Buffalo Gap Historic Village, but we knew that it was the
reasonable thing for us to do.
Editor's Note: See the article on Buffalo Gap on page 12.
Above: Ann and R. Lee Rode at Buffalo Gap
HERITAGE E3 SUMMER 2001
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Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Summer 2001, periodical, Summer 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45385/m1/26/: accessed June 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.