Marfa has become an unlikely cultural hotbed for artists and visitors from across the country (even the world). Though it may seem like a positive thing—national exposure brings valued tourism dollars and puts a spotlight on the region’s natural beauty and quirky charm—it’s brought concern to the independent-minded residents who aren’t too keen on the higher property taxes and curious outsiders.
Marfa (population 2,121) was established in 1883 as a railroad water stop and was reportedly named by a railroad executive’s wife who suggested the name based on a character from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which she was reading at the time.
Two years later, a magnificent three-story Renaissance Revival courthouse was built downtown, providing a jarring contrast to the surrounding barren West Texas landscape. Recently refurbished to its original glory with the help of the Texas Historical Commission, the courthouse remains a downtown focal point and one of the state’s architectural gems.
In 1911, the U.S. military established a presence in Marfa in response to the nearby Mexican revolution, and troops remained in the area for several decades with the establishment of the Marfa Army Air Field and Camp Albert (later renamed Camp Marfa, then Fort D. A. Russell, and now the home of the fascinating Chinati art foundation).
Another of Marfa’s most compelling properties, the exquisite El Paisano Hotel, served as the operations base for the epic 1956 film “Giant” starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean. With its sweeping vistas and spectacular sky, Marfa continues to draw filmmakers, most notably as the backdrop for many scenes in two Oscar-nominated movies from 2007: “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood.”
With its lofty elevations and spectacular scenery, Marfa is also a popular spot for outdoor recreational activities, including the links at Marfa Municipal Golf Course, the highest golf course in Texas, and glider excursions, benefiting from the area’s strong thermal updrafts and unparalleled views. When visitors aren’t enjoying the cooler temperatures, they head to the trendy art galleries, boutiques, and coffee shops in the historic downtown area.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition