County Seat: Marfa * County Population: 6,131 (2020 Census)
The Presidio County Courthouse, built with locally made brick, is one of the state’s best-preserved courthouses. In fact, tourists drive out of their way to view the Second Empire edifice designed by Alfred Giles. The $65,000 courthouse was officially opened on New Year’s Eve 1886 with a gala ball.
The interior and the overall exterior form and detailing remain remarkably intact. The building’s most significant alterations occurred in 1915 and 1925 with the plaster coating of the exterior porous brick. Years later, a renovation/restoration project included site repairs, ADA modifications, full roof, dome, and statue restoration, and systems updates. This courthouse project was completed in the spring of 2000.
Presidio County was formed from Bexar County on Jan. 3, 1850, and organized on March 13, 1875. The county was named for Presidio del Norte, an 18th century fort and settlement on the south side of the Rio Grande. Fort Davis served as the county seat up until 1885, when Marfa became the home of county government.
The county capital has been described as a “creative haven” attracting writers, artists, and architects who wish to develop their trades in a peaceful setting. In fact, every October, international art enthusiasts make way to Marfa to visit the home of Donald Judd, an acclaimed American artist.
Marfa lies between three mountain ranges and is known for the Marfa Mystery Lights, an enigma that fascinates onlookers nearly every night. The lights were first recorded by early settlers in 1883 and are best seen from a viewing area approximately 9 miles east of Marfa on U.S. Highway 90. The first recorded sighting of the lights was by rancher Robert Ellison in 1883. Explained as campfires, phosphorescent minerals, swamp gas, static electricity, St. Elmo’s fire, and “ghost lights,” the lights reportedly change colors, move about, and change in intensity. Scholars have reported more than 75 local folk tales dealing with the unexplained phenomenon.
In the 1950s, Marfa was the location for the filming of “Giant” starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson. Memorabilia can be viewed at the Presidio County Museum and the Hotel Paisano.
The city of Presidio serves as the western gateway to the 350,000-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park and the stunning Bofecillos Mountains. The adobe trading post and private fortress of Ben Leaton, restored and interpreted by Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the new electricity storage battery station, the largest in the United States and housed in architecture designed to suggest a fort, provide a perfect window into Presidio’s past and future.
The Big Bend terrain is sought out by hikers, rock hounds, bird watchers, and shutterbugs. The area’s ecosystem supports a vast array of wildlife, including the mountain lion and pronghorn antelope. Sportsmen frequent the area to hunt deer, quail, and dove.