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Borderlands: Magoffin Home Preserves El Paso's Past 11 (1993)

A unique resource of faculty edited college student articles on the history and culture of the El Paso, Juárez, and Southern New Mexico regions.

Magoffin Home Preserves El Paso's Past

Article first published in Vol. 11, 1993.

By Brenda Marusich

The year is 1883. The place is El Paso. You have just been invited to celebrate the anniversary of one of the wealthiest couples who live in the most prestigious neighborhood in town.

You have arrived at seven o'clock and sit down for dinner at a table set for 40 people. Thirteen courses and four hours later you are permitted to leave the table only to dance until dawn.

""Image caption: Antique furniture graces the formal parlor of the Magoffin Home. Photo by Maurice Gutierrez

At daybreak you sit down at the same table and eat breakfast, and only after everyone finishes breakfast, is the party over.

A party like this one did occur over 100 years ago at 1120 Magoffin Avenue, the home of Joseph and Octavia Magoffin.

Even though you can't go back to that era, you can see and imagine what life must have been like in El Paso in the 1800s if you take a trip to the Magoffin Home, one of El Paso's state parks.

The Magoffin Home, built in 1875, is one of the oldest buildings in El Paso. It stands as one of the few local historical sites which remains intact.

The home sits on one and one-half acres of land owned by the City of El Paso and Texas Parks and Wildlife. Seven of the 19 rooms are open to the public. The others remain closed because of inadequate state funding.

Even before funding difficulties began, a group of concerned citizens formed an organization called "Casa Magoffin Compañeros." These volunteers are in the process of opening up two more rooms, one of which will be a gift shop, offering books, postcards and related materials about the house. The other will function as a waiting room in which visitors can view a five-minute videotape on the history of the Magoffin family and the home.

When you visit the Magoffin Home, you will be transported into the 18th century. All the furniture in display is original and used by the family. No other home museum for hundreds of miles can make that claim.

If you enjoy playing the piano, the formal parlor has an example of the finest ones of that era, transported to El Paso via the Santa Fe Trail. Built in 1881, it is a rosewood Grecian square piano, closely resembling a baby grand. If you get a chance to play it, you will hear a sound just as glorious today as it was back then.

If you are a photographer, you will be interested in a portrait of Joseph Magoffin that is on the Victorian bookcase also in the parlor. It was taken by Edward Curtis, who took the famous picture of Sitting Bull.

""Image caption: Victorian washstand and antique sewing machine. Photo by Maurice Gutierrez

For the scholar in you, the bookshelf contains a complete set of the Great Ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The information might not be too accurate because it was written in 1878, but the set is a treasure.

Are you an antique seeker? This place is a gold mine. The master bedroom features a prize-winning bedroom suite purchased at the New Orleans 1884-1885 World's Fair. Its 13-foot high, half-canopy bed distinguishes it from other sets. The vanity-dresser is one-of-a-kind, made of light brown and burled walnut, giving it a marbled look. Look in other rooms for more gems.

Here's a fact for you military buffs. Three of the members of the Magoffin family who lived in this home were West Point graduates. Their uniforms, still in excellent condition, are on display in the master bedroom's armoire.

If you go at the right time, you might see Isabel Glasgow, James Wiley Magoffin's great-great-granddaughter and a volunteer at the home. Having lived there when she was a little girl, she speaks from her own experience and love for her former home when she gives a tour.

Touring the Magoffin home or attending an event there will bring you into contact with El Paso's past, but soon you may lose this opportunity. Because of cutbacks by the Texas Parks and Wildlife, instead of having two full-time employees to run the tours and a groundskeeper, the Magoffin Home staff has been reduced to only one full-time superintendent and security/maintenance man.

However, this should not dampen your enthusiasm. When enough people, go, it will send a message to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The number of people who tour the home guides their funding decisions.

The Magoffin Home has two functions. It is an important museum, and it also serves as a reminder of those early pioneers who worked at reaching their dreams, conquering this land and settling it.

The park is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrance fees are $2 for adults and $1 for children. 

Note:  The 80th Texas Legislature transferred operational control of this to the Texas Historical Commission effective January 1, 2008.

Magoffin Sources

Magoffin Home State Historic Site ( EPCC Along the Rio Grande project #60)
Perspectives 182: Professor Blevins visits with L. Bergloff at the Magoffin Home Historic site.
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