Don McAlavy: Clovis historian
The Merritt legacy: That’s what Daisy Gertrude Merritt and her husband Charles left Clovis, and that’s what her talented son, Dr. Dean Merritt left his family, friends, and Clovis.
The story began when Charles, from Kansas, married Daisy Gertrude, from Missouri. She was 23 and he was 50. Because of his health, the two came to the Sunshine State, New Mexico, in 1907 where he was soon able to work again.
They homesteaded south of Clovis and lived for a time in a dugout. But when Daisy found a rattlesnake in the dugout she told Charles: “Find me a place in town!”
So, Charles built a home for her in Clovis and started building a two-story building at the southwest corner of Fourth and Main. On the first floor he established his bakery; the first bakery in Clovis. He built it with his own hands, pouring concrete and reenforcing it with old, used bed springs.
Their first child was Dorothy, born in 1911. Three years later, Dean F. Merritt was born. Charles died when Dean was 3 years old.
Then Daisy Merritt married a railroader, C.B. Conner. Daisy took over managing the building, which soon became known as the Conner Building. The building was extended to the alley and she made the upstairs rooms for boarders and roomers, and an apartment for her family.
She rented out the front upstairs rooms to Dr. H. A. Miller (who later became the Santa Fe Railroad doctor who ran the Santa Fe Hospital here). Dr. Miller’s clinic became the first hospital in Clovis. One of Clovis’ most popular ladies, Mary Lee Neff Rogers, was born upstairs in Dr. Miller’s hospital in the Conner Building.
The building was prime property and many tried to buy the Conner Building, but Daisy refused to sell. Later, the first public library in Clovis was established by Fanny Bliss in one of the upstairs rooms.
Dean Merritt and Chaney Miller became sweethearts in high school in Clovis, graduating in 1932. He became a chiropractor, married Chaney in 1938 and served during World War II in the Navy Medical Corps. Right after the war he studied art at the Chicago Art Institute, came home and built a studio at his home on North Prince Street, meanwhile carrying on his work as a chiropractor.
In 1948, Dr. Dean Merritt organized the Clovis Art League, and members met upstairs where Dean had established his art studio. Chaney said she believes it was Clovis’ first major art studio.
Dr. Merritt started teaching art classes, expanding from three to 25 students within a month’s time. He also managed to teach art to classes out of town, in Portales, Bovina and at Cannon Air Force Base.
Every serious artist has strong feelings about art. Dr. Merritt never stood on a soapbox and preached his ideas about art to anyone. He expressed his feelings about art in his many oil paintings, water colors, and his sculpture.
He was controversial in that he was one of the first abstract artists here to produce hundreds of paintings. A majority of them were abstracts with themes that were mostly religious in nature.
“There is pressure on artists to paint pretty pictures instead of art,” he would say. “People are interested only in the functional and show very little appreciation for genuine art.”
Daisy Conner died in 1986, four years after Dr. Dean Merritt died at age 67. Dr. Merritt and Chaney had four children — Dean P., Thomas, Ken and Desna.
Chaney and the children continue to maintain one of the more historical buildings in Clovis, the one that Charles Merritt built with his own hands.
The Merritts, one of the oldest families in Clovis, started a legacy that will continue for many year..
Charles and Daisy Merritt built a solid building that continues to serve Clovis. Dr. Dean Merritt and his art, his wife Chaney, a long-time school teacher here, and their grown children continue to make Clovis a better place to live.
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: