New Hampshire Missing Places: Lone Star Ranch, Reeds Ferry

Circa 1947 photograph of the entrance to Lone Star Ranch, Reeds Ferry NH. Courtesy of Don Levesque. Used with permission.

What: Lone Star Ranch was a rustic, outdoor summer-autumn entertainment venue located in Reeds Ferry (Merrimack) New Hampshire. [When the weather got colder they would hold indoor “barn dances.” ] It focused on Country & Western, and Hillbilly music, comedy and related events.  In addition at various times during its existence, picnic tables, horse back riding, concessions, and games were offered. When the weather was wet or cold there was a ranch house (barn) that was used.

Lone Star Ranch existed from 1938-1983–a span of over 45 years. The entertainers booked for these shows were a mix of local, national, and international renown.

Old postcard showing the crowd gathered to watch the show at Lone Star Ranch, Merrimack New Hampshire.

Where: The former location of the Lone Star Ranch is today’s site of the Webster Green condominium development, on Route 3 in Merrimack New Hampshire, just south of Southern NH Medical Park and Merrimack Ten Pin Center (bowling). One of my
‘Nostalgic Nashua NH’ FaceBook friends, Anita Lyon Memos remembers that it was “just north of the Depot Farm Stand and two other buildings then the brook crosses over to where the fish hatchery used to be then the Ranch started. Also just beyond the Ranch was a great ice cream stand, then a motel. All have gone away!”   [Note that the vestiges of that fish hatchery that was just south of Lone Star on the opposite side of the road still remain as a landmark].

The famed Gene LaVerne singing at the 1950 wedding of Allen and Virginia Penrod in Merrimack NH. Photograph courtesy of Ginny Penrod, used with permission.

As this story’s editor, I have personal experiences with Lone Star Ranch. For one, my maternal uncle, Frank Manning was hired to build many of the original buildings that became the Lone Star Ranch. Secondly, back in the 1950s-1970s many times I would ride by in the family car and hear the music, catching a glimpse of the performers on stage (but we never actually stopped). Thirdly, my aunt and uncle the Pynenbergs hired Gene LaVerne to sing at their daughter’s (my cousin) Ginny Penrod’s wedding. They lived in Merrimack and their family gas station/garage was just a few miles down the same highway. [I do not remember this event as I had not yet been born].

Several years ago Paul “Hank” Preston [a performer in his own right] wrote up a wonderful but brief history of Lone Star Ranch that I included on my Merrimack NH history web site. I repeat parts of it here (in bold), adding additional details, photographs, and a bit of genealogy discovered through research.

Photograph of Baron West, the builder and first manager/operator of the Lone Star Ranch.

Who: But first things first. The first owners of the property that was developed into Lone Star Ranch were Curtis L. & Elizabeth “Grammy” Ethel (Hutchinson) Bell.  Curtis and “Grammy” had moved to Reeds Ferry New Hampshire in 1917. Curtis Bell’s regular job was as a supervisor/foreman in various shoe shops, while “Grammy” owned and managed tourist cabins. This small business eventually grew into Lone Star Ranch with managers and promoters from the music industry.  The Curtis family continued to own the land until it was purchased by “Buzz” Whittaker (Carl Worthen).  A bit of their genealogy and photographs on the Curtis Family follow this story.

The Lone Star Ranch, located in Reeds Ferry, New Hampshire, was opened in 1938 by country radio singer, Baron West. Baron and his friends built the ranch and opened it, featuring country bands and entertainers.  Baron died in the middle of the Ranch’s second season.   In 1938 Baron West is featured in ‘A Radio Guide Weekly’ of 19 November 1938 as performing on “WFEA — Baron West & His Texans.” [Editor’s note: I admit it, I am stumped on getting more details on Baron West, exactly when he died and who his family was.  One source says he was from Beverly MA, but in 1940 I find him living in Manchester NH.  If you know PLEASE leave a comment!]

“Buzz Whiitaca” (Carl Worthen) and Georgia Mae pose in front of the ‘Lone Star Ranch 1939’ sign. From collection of Ginny Penrod. Used with permission. My thanks to Gary Hutchins for identifying the people in this photo.

A marriage notice in the Nashua Telegraph newspaper of 11 September 1939 states that a bridegroom, Harold G. “Happy” Heimbach of Manchester was a musician with Baron West and His Lone Star Texans. A pre-nuptial surprise party was given them (his bride was Hilda Gould) on September 9 at Lone Star Ranch].

The August 1939 Fitchburg Sentinel newspaper, reporting on residents of Townsend MA reported: ‘Miss Virginia Brown was awarded second prize at an amateur contest conducted at Baron’s Lone Star Ranch, Merrimack, N.H. Sunday. Miss Brown gave whistling solos.”

In 1940, “Sagebrush” Jim Marshall and his band operated the ranch. In the early days, Elton Britt, Georgia Mae and other New England performers appeared on Sunday afternoons during the summer months. Jim Marshall featured acts from the Grand Ole Opry (www.opry.com, natch), movie stars including the Hoosier Hotshots, and the Sons of the Pioneers.  Jim Marshall died in a car accident.

21 November 1941. Nashua (NH) Telegraph newspaper.

1960-ish postcard showing a Lone Star Ranch outdoor performance. From the collection of the blog editor.

Lone Star Ranch Man At Reed’s Ferry Near Death In Hospital At Derry. Derry–Harold L. “Sagebrush Jim” Marshall, 23, entertainer and owner of the Lone Star Ranch on the D.W. Highway near Reed’s Ferry lies near death after receiving serious head injuries in an automobile accident on route 28 near here. Marshall has not regained consciousness since he was admitted to the hospital yesterday. A companion, Beverly E. Dodge, 20, of August Me., is reported to be in “fair” condition as a result of the same crash. She was a member of the Lone Star Ranch and received a broken arm and minor injuries. The accident happened on what is known as Ryan’s Hill on route 28 south of here when Marshall rammed his light beach wagon into the rear of a big trailer-tanker truck owned by the H.P. Welch Company of Somerville. The accident, according to police, happened around midnight near the top of the hill. The force of he impact drove the engine back through the wagon and Marshall received a fractured skull and other injuries. Little home of recovery is held for him it was stated by Dr. A.D. Teitelbaum. He was born in Farmington and moved to Nebraska at the age of 8. A year ago Marshall came back to New Hampshire and established the Lone Star Ranch. Plans for enlargement were just being completed at the time of the accident. Miss Dodge has been with the organization over a year as a featured violinist.”

Bean’s Home Cooked Food concession stand at Lone Star Ranch. Augusta and Francis Bean owners. Photo courtesy of Ginny Penrod. Used with permission.

Nashua Telegraph 22 Nov 1941. [Excerpts of article reporting death of Marshall]
“Tonight’s show which was scheduled for a nearby town has been cancelled but other show engagements, contracted for by Marshall, will be filled in with “Zeke” Clawson acting as leader of the band. It was also planned to operate the ranch next season under Clawson’s leadership. Marshall’s death brings to light the fact that this is the second owner of the Ranch who had died after having successfully operated the organization for a year. During Marshall’s reign at the ranch crowds ranging from 5,000 to 7,500 people attended Sunday shows. Marshall was well liked in Reeds Ferry and Merrimack. His nearest survivor is a year and a half old daughter in Maine. He was divorced from his wife before taking over the ranch.”

1947 newspaper announcement of Smiley Burnette to appear at Lone Star Ranch.

In 1942, Ken Lane and his band from Lynn, Mass. and Ken McKenzie of Portland, Maine kept the ranch open.  In 1944, the Bar X Boys from Gardner, Mass. and the Circle C Boys and others helped to run the ranch.

In 1945, the ranch closed due to World War II. [Evidently in 1946,] Gene LaVerne, popular radio personality and country entertainer, took charge of the Lone Star Ranch. His band was known as The Lone Star Ranch Gang. Under Gene’s guidance, the ranch grew in popularity. It featured two concerts plus an open jamboree show every Sunday afternoon. Featured performers included acts such as Roy Acuff, Kitty Wells, and Ernest Tubbs from the Grand Ole Opry, as well as WWVA Jamboree U.S.A. acts from Wheeling, W. Va. Favorites were Yodeling Kenny Roberts, Doc Williams and Chickie, Dusty Owens, and Yodeling Slim Clark.” Local performers included Dwight Davis and the Linemen, Dave Miller, Doug Garron, and Clyde Joy and his band.

In 1956, Buzz Whittaker purchased the ranch and continued to present top country shows. According to Steve Ashland, a former employee of WMUR-TV, Buzz Whittaker had a weekly television program on WMUR-TV, Channel 9 in the late 1950’s. In 1983, Buzz announced that he could no longer continue to keep the ranch open. The Lone Star Ranch closed in October 1983.

“Buzz” Whittaker was the stage name of Carl Herbert Worthen.  He was born 30 June 1920 in Portsmouth NH and died 8 March 1999 Bedford NH, the son of Forest A. & Helen C. (Stevens) Worthen. He lived in Merrimack and Bedford NH.

*****ADDITIONAL READING/WATCHING*****

VIDEO/HOME MOVIE: Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner Lone Star Ranch

Photographs: Private Collections–various photographs taken at Lone Star Ranch and other venues.

Database: Dates Johnny Cash Played at Lone Star Ranch

Hillbilly Music Web Site

Photographs (GREAT!) of Lone Star Ranch, entertainers, owners by Gary Hutchins on FaceBook

Photographs of entertainers at Lone Star Ranch by Dave Levesque on FaceBook.

Photographs of Lone Start Ranch by Sandy Hewitt on FaceBook

=====PARTIAL BELL FAMILY GENEALOGY====

Leman Riley Bell, son of Alfred & Catherine Bell, born 5 June 1857 in Nova Scotia Canada. He died 4 Dec 1907 in Manchester NH. Buried Pine Grove Cemetery. Occupation: shoemaker.  He married 1st) 21 March 1878 in Digby Co. NS Canada to Sarah “Sadie” Alvirina Haight. She was b. abt 1860 in Nova Scotia Canada, daughter of Ambrose & Hannah Sophia (Durand) Haight. He m2d) abt 1892 He to Cora May Wormell, daughter of Albert & Alda (Hayden) Wormell. She was born in New Brunswick Canada. They had children: Cora who d. 27 Dec 1906, aged 5.
—————
1891 Census of Canada > Digby > Plympton >
Joseph Cook 45
Catharine Cook 50
Leman Bell 30 Lodger, b 1861 nS,
Curtis Bell 12
Joseph Bell 11
Bessie Bell 9
Augustus Bell 7
Sarah Bell 4
Elizabeth Vanemberg 25
—————
1900 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester
Leeman Bell 40
Cora Bell 27
Curtis Bell 21
Joseph Bell 19
Gustie Bell 22
Lizzie Bell 17
Bessie Bell 17
Augustus Bell 15
Sadie Bell 12
Albert Bell 5
Clyde Bell 6
—————
Children of Leman R. & Sarah A. (Haight) Bell:
1. +Curtis Leman Bell, b. 10 June 1878, NS Canada
2. Joseph Boyd Bell, born 3 Sep 1879 in North Range, Nova Scotia, Canada; died 21 August 1965 in Southington CT; in 1900 listed as living in Manchester NH with his parents. He married 1899 in NS to Mary Augusta Haight.  Children: Leman Boyd b 3 July 1901 Canada; Daisy & Dorothy (twins) b 27 June 1903 Manchester NH; Olive, b. 30 May 1905 Southington CT;  Sadie b 29 March 1908 Southington CT; Vera, b 11 June 1910 Southington CT; Edna b 17 Feb 1913 Southington CT; Joseph b 7 May 1915 Southington CT; Edward b 24 Feb 1918 Southington CT.  Naturalized citizen in 1924.
3. Bessie May Bell, b 31 May 1882 in Digby NS, died 30 Nov 1966 in Danbury NH;  m. 24 Feb 1904 in Manchester NH to Leon Eugene Sawyer, son of George W. and Nancy (Ryder) Sawyer.
4. Augustus D. “Gustie” Bell, b. 12 Aug 1887 Canada; in 1900 living with parents in Manchester NH. Died 18 Oct 1951 in Weymouth Mills, Digby, NS Canada.
5. Sarah Blanche “Sadie” Bell, b. 9 January 1887 Canada.  In 1900 living with parents in Manchester NH.  She m. 19 June 1907 in Dudley MA to Joseph Figliola, son of Carmine & Elizabeth (Danzilis) Figliola.
Children of Leman R. & Cora M. (Wormell) Bell:
6. Cora who d. 27 Dec 1906, aged 5
7. Albert Newton Bell, b. 8 March 1895 Bradford Massachusetts; m. Mildred B. Sherwood
8. Clyde Bell, b. 22 October 1899, d. 22 October 1900 Manchester NH, cause teething, diarhhea.

Arthur, Grammy and Curtis Bell, owners of the Lone Star Ranch property.

Curtis Leman Bell, son of Leman R. & Sarah Alverina (Haight) Bell was b 10 June 1878 No. Ridge Nova Scotia Canada, and died 20 July 1950 in Merrimack NH. He moved to Haverhill MA when a young man. He immigrated to the United States on 21 October 1893 arriving at Haverhill MA. He m. 28 May 1898 in Haverhill MA to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ethel Hutchinson [she was 15 years old], daughter of Arthur & Rhoda (Kneeland) Hutchinson. [both b Rowley MA her father a shoemaker] She b. 2 Nov 1882 in Georgetown MA. Curtis was a naturalized citizen. They moved to Merrimack NH in 1917. He worked as a shoemaker for over 50 years including as superintendent and foreman at McElwain, and International Shoe shops in Manchester NH and the Winchel Co. in Haverhill, the Adams Shoe Co. in Pittsfield and Thom McAn. The couple celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1948.  Her obituary states: “she attended the First Congregational Church, and was past president of both the Merrimack Community Club and the Reeds Ferry Womens’ Club. A pioneer in over-night cabins, she owned the first of these between Boston and the White Mountains, and was the first owner of the Lone Star Ranch in Merrimack.”
——————
Child of Curtis L. & Elizabeth Ethel (Hutchinson) Bell:
1. Arthur Curtis Bell, b. 7 April 1899 Haverhill MA. He married Olive Wotton. Their chidren: Electa Evelyn Bell who married Ernest Arthur Pearson, son of Gustave Edward & Ada (Holmberg) Pearson; Curtis Leman Bell, b. 8 Oct 1920 Reeds Ferry NH, d. 21 Aug 1999 Stark NH, who m. 14 march 1942 in Bradford FL to Florence Louise Farrell); Russell Vernon Bell (b 12 July 1922 Reeds Ferry NH, died 14 July 2004, m. 13 July 1942 in Manchester NH to Marjorie Edythe Iller, WW2 Army veteran, Purple Heart recipient; Marilyn D. Bell, b 15 March 1925, d. 31 May 2017, married Paul Leo Durocher.

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11 Responses to New Hampshire Missing Places: Lone Star Ranch, Reeds Ferry

  1. Gary Hutchins says:

    The two “unidentified” individuals in the photo in front of the ranch house with the 1939 sign are Lone Star Ranch owner Buzz Whittica (not “Whittaker”) and Georgia Mae. Buzz Whittica, was the stage name for Carl Worthen. Georgia Mae appeared at the ranch for many years and was also a performer on WBZ in Boston.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Gary, the newspaper advertisements and articles show him as Whittaker. I’m sure he pronounced it ‘WhittaCA’ as it is the New Hampshire accent! Thanks for responding and yes I note near the end that he was Carl Worthen. I deeply appreciate your identifying the people in the photo!

      • Gary Hutchins says:

        Hi Janice. Thank you for this wonderful article! Many of the people who attended (and performed at) the ranch have passed on. I was very fortunate to work for Buzz Whittica at the ranch for 17 years until it closed in 1983. I mention the spelling of his last name only because, over the years, I have seen it misspelled in print many times. People’s memories fade and some of the details get lost. For example, some of the sources in this article state that there were only two owners of the ranch (Grammy Bell and Buzz Whittica). And this is correct. However, in the newspaper article that reports the death of Jim Marshall, Marshall is referred to as “the owner of the Lone Star Ranch”. You have done an amazing job pulling all of these sources together and, for me, it was very interesting. I’m going to try to include a photo of Buzz’s guitar with his name on it, but I’m not sure it will upload. Best wishes and thank you again for this article!

  2. Amy says:

    We’ve lost something by losing these old, simple places where families gathered for times together.

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, what you say is so true. Before the dawn of internet communication, it seemed people were much more social in an “in your face” kind of way. Simple gatherings and entertainments that we seem to be lacking these days. Is society becoming more isolated? Are we losing the joy in simple ways? Only the future will say. Thank you for being a dedicated reader, and for your always thoughtful comments.

      • Amy says:

        I also think that as people became more affluent, travel abroad or within the US as a family replaced these old resorts that kept families and communities together. But technolocy has definitely made it even worse.

  3. Virginia Penrod says:

    Thanks for this fascinating article. So many names dance in my head with warm memories. And as I read my mind goes like….. Earnest…oh yeah, “Ernie”…. so forth. Thanks, Janice ❣️

    • Janice Brown says:

      Ginny, I tried to do justice to the subject. Most of the Lone Star Ranch’s story is in the mind and hearts of the people who went there and enjoyed it, and knew the people involved. It isn’t so easy decades later to make it interesting for people who were not there!

    • Janice Brown says:

      Ginny, My thanks to you for allowing me to use your photographs. They help make the story more personal and interesting. And yes you probably met many if not all the people mentioned in the story! 🙂

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