Meet the Godbold: A Glimpse into Marfa's Past
Today's Marfa, Texas, located in the Trans-Pecos desert, is primarily known for its art scene. Thousands flock to the tiny town in West Texas annually to attend festivals and visit various large-scale art installations. But Marfa's beginnings were that of a frontier town. Established in 1883 as a resting point for the new Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway, Marfa was established as Presidio County seat, which, at the time, was as large as Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.
Marfa's early days were typical of the Wild West: rowdy saloons, hotels, and restaurants catered to transient railroad workers and cattle ranchers in town for supplies. In addition to the railroad, the nearby Rio Grande River and Mexican border played a key role in the town's early development. During the Mexican Revolution, the United States government set up a temporary encampment in the area to protect the southern border. This encampment encompassed what is now the South Side of Marfa, just southwest of downtown Marfa, and occupied this land between 1911 and 1946, serving as a major driver for physical and population growth in the town. In 1911, the United States Army established the temporary post Camp Albert as their response to the Mexican Revolution. The post was re-established as Camp Marfa in 1913. At the conclusion of the First World War, early construction of permanent structures began. This early wave of building in 1919 and 1920 saw the construction of what is known today as Godbold Inc., as a Quartermaster’s warehouse. The camp expanded throughout the 1920s., and further responding to the Mexican threat at the southern border, Marfa established the predecessor to the modern day US Border Patrol in 1924. The administrative offices for the US Border Patrol are, in 2019, still located in Marfa.
By 1927, present-day Godbold Inc. was no longer a part of Camp Marfa, and was used as the distribution center for Radford Grocery Co. Wholesale until 1947. The Radford Grocery Co. was a wholesale grocery that supplied products to local stores. In 1947, local entrepreneur, Roy "Happy" Godbold, operator of Godbold Feed & Supply (Marfa's second largest employer behind the Federal Government), bought the site as the new home for Godbold Feeds. A Texas Monthly article from the 1970s described him as "a strong-looking man with a comfortable paunch, clear blue eyes, and benign grandfather smile" who always wore "a soiled Stetson to match his khaki shirt and khaki pants." Happy and his manager, Chili Bean Ridley (who only answered to either "Chili" or "Bean," never both), began producing dry cattle feed and mineral supplements in the facility, operating as Stock-Aid Mineral (as in, Gatorade for cows!). Inside the facility, a 75-ton press mixed molasses and steam with ground milo, alfalfa, phosphorous, Vitamin A and salt to produce Godbold's 37% protein "Grass Buster" feed block, and form mid-November to May, round-the-clock crews loaded 50,000 pounds of blocks and pellets on Godbold trucks for delivery to ranches across Texas. In the 1960s, Happy rebranded the plant to Godbold, Inc. and expanded the site to increase operations. Further growth in the 1960s resulted in an additional plant in Lubbock. In addition to operating Godbold Inc., Happy and Chili Bean were successful ranchers in the area, which they oversaw the old-fashioned way, on horseback.
The Godbold Inc. operated at the site until 1978, after which it was purchased by artist Donald Judd, who was spearheading Marfa's burgeoning art scene, and was used for various arts-related activities and administration. Most recently, it's been purchased by the Marfa Distilling Company, who plan to rehab the building to house a sotol distillery (using Historic Tax Credits, of course). We're thrilled to be a part of this unique, exciting project! Stay tuned-- and, just for fun, here's a historic photo of a 1930s sotol-smuggling donkey in Presidio County: