Magoffin Home State Historic Site
A sprawling, 19-room hacienda offers insights into early El Paso’s high society.
By Rob McCorkle
Twenty years before notorious gunslinger John Wesley Hardin met his fate in the Acme Saloon in rough-and-tumble El Paso, a man who would become synonymous with the bustling border city erected an adobe home just north of the Rio Grande. The Magoffin Home, built across the river from the Mexican town of El Paso del Norte in 1875 by Mexico-born Joseph Magoffin, marks the birthplace of modern El Paso.
The historic hacienda, built not far from the site of the 1849 homestead settled by Joseph’s father, offers a glimpse into late- 1800s frontier grandeur enjoyed by one of the area’s first multicultural families. The tiny settlement established by trader-merchant James Magoffin succumbed to Rio Grande floodwaters in 1867, but helped plant the seeds for what would become one of the nation’s most vibrant border cities.
Strategically located on the Chihuahua Trail across the Rio Grande from present-day Juarez, the original Magoffin home hosted merchants and dignitaries from the United States and Mexico. One of those visitors was U. S. Boundary Commission artist Henry C. Pratt, who in the 1850s painted a portrait of Magoffin, U.S. consul to Saltillo and Chihuahua, Mexico.
The Magoffin portrait is among a host of splendidly preserved 19th-century artifacts found throughout the striking structure designed by James Magoffin’s son, Joseph, in 1875. Located just six blocks east of looming downtown skyscrapers, the low-slung, 19-room residence stands as one of the few remaining examples of the territorial architectural style in Texas. The U-shaped residence, built around an interior patio, incorporates Greek Revival elements, such as pedimented doors and windows, into a Spanish hacienda-style of architecture.
Constructed of adobe, the Magoffin Home was given a more refined look by plastering over the exterior with chalk-colored plaster and scoring the covering to create the illusion of stone construction. Almost three-foot-thick adobe walls and 14-foot ceilings, along with eight fireplaces, helped keep the family comfortable during the desert’s weather extremes. Form followed function, too, with every bedroom featuring an exterior door that could be opened to create a cross-breeze for better ventilation.
The original wing of the house, which sported dirt floors and ceilings supported by cottonwood vigas, was converted to a carriage house and later became a playroom for the Magoffin grandchildren. Today, the south wing serves as a gift shop. The Magoffins added two more wings to the original adobe structure, and in 1876 moved in to the more modern north wing that faces Magoffin Avenue. Restoration was begun after the property was purchased in 1976 by the City of El Paso and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from granddaughter Octavia Magoffin Glascow and two brothers. Octavia lived in the home until her death in 1986.
The Magoffin Home today serves as both an architectural landmark and a monument to one of El Paso’s most important pioneering families. Before his death in 1923, Joseph Magoffin held several city and county offices, served four terms as El Paso mayor and helped incorporate the city in 1873. A visit to this tranquil one-and-a-half acre oasis in the heart of a bustling multicultural metropolis reaffirms the difference one family can make in shaping Texas history.
For more information, call (915) 533-5147 or visit Magoffin Home State Historic Site on the Web.