From its founding, El Paso, Texas, has straddled two nations while developing a culture all of its own. This unique cultural blend can be unearthed at the Magoffin Home State Historic Site, El Paso’s only historic house museum, through the tales of the Magoffin family and through the building itself.
The story of the Magoffin Home begins in Kentucky with James Wiley Magoffin, who left his home to make a living on the Chihuahua-Santa Fe Trail. By the 1820s, he was a successful Mexican businessman in the Saltillo area, known regionally as “Don Santiago.” He met a Mexican woman named María Gertrudis Valdés, and they married and raised children. Returning to the States in the 1840s, his background in Mexico and the Texas Republic helped him become an envoy to Mexico during the Mexican-American War, where he was taken prisoner. After the war, Magoffin began buying up land in the Rio Grande Valley to establish a mercantile and trade center to expedite the sale of goods across the new border. This area, known as Magoffinsville, was one of the founding neighborhoods of the frontier town of El Paso del Norte and the first home of Fort Bliss.
This era came crashing to a halt in 1860, when James Wiley made a disastrous moral and business decision to enthusiastically side with the Confederacy, evicting the Union soldiers from Fort Bliss. After the war’s conclusion, U.S. Marshals confiscated the lands of those who had betrayed the country, including Magoffin. The land was returned to the family after his death as the winds turned against radical reconstruction, and it passed on to his son and daughter-in-law, Joseph and Octavia Magoffin. They built a new hacienda, but began to sell the rest of the land, and Joseph became a powerful real estate holder. A popular figure, and one with both Mexican and American heritage, he would become a four-term mayor of El Paso.
Now, some may argue that the tale of the Magoffins was just a red herring, and the real story of the site’s importance concerns the house itself. The mansion is made of adobe, a mix of dried clay, sand, and straw, and is one of the oldest and best-preserved houses of the style. The walls are two to three feet thick, and must be protected from the elements and reshaped frequently. In the era of Joseph and Octavia Magoffin, the house was a popular destination for the social elite, and travelers from both sides of the border and places beyond. The estate remained in the hands of the family until 1976, when it was sold to the City and State, although the last member of the family would not pass away until a decade later. Today, it is a historic site and cultural center, with a visitor center located across the street. Tours of the adobe mansion are available, and guides are available on-site to interpret this important link between two cultures.
Know Before You Go
The house is only available by tour, available at the top of the hour. Be sure to visit the visitor center, located across the street from the Magoffin Home, in order to make arrangements.