Blackwell School Alliance seeks city support in transition to National Historic Site

Marfa’s Blackwell School is now one of 420+ national parks located across the United States. The site is in the process of transferring hands from local organization the Blackwell School Alliance to the National Parks Service. Staff photo by Mary Cantrell.

MARFA — At last week’s regular Marfa City Council meeting, representatives from the Blackwell School Alliance and the National Parks Service (NPS) provided updates on the Blackwell School as it moves towards its establishment as a National Historic Site, and made a request for support from the city in the process.

The adobe structure, which served as a segregated schoolhouse for Mexican American students from 1909 to 1965, was designated a National Historic Site in October of last year when President Biden signed the Blackwell School National Historic Site Act into law. It was a long-sought victory for members of the alliance, a group of alumni and supporters devoted to preserving the site and documenting its history.

But the site will not be officially established as a National Historic Site until the land is transferred from the Marfa Independent School District — which leases the site to the Blackwell School Alliance — to the federal government. That process, while inching forward, has been tangled in legal red tape, explained Martha Stafford, a representative of the alliance and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

“The land transfer from the school is very complicated and is taking a lot longer than we had originally thought,” said Stafford. “But their attorneys are working on it, so we know it will happen, it’s just a matter of time.”

In the meantime, the alliance has partnered with the NPS and the NPCA as it prepares for that transition — and is seeking the city’s input as well. 

The establishment of a National Historic Site in Marfa will likely draw more visitors to the area; it will inevitably have an impact on the city of Marfa, said Stafford, “in really positive ways.” That being the case, the city’s input on matters such as roads and traffic around the school could be instrumental. 

“You also know Marfa, and I think that’s important that we have people who have been here a really long time and they understand Marfa, they understand there are a lot of inner workings,” said Stafford.

The alliance is seeking the city’s involvement in a fairly informal capacity, she explained — maybe in the form of a panel to bounce ideas around and provide input on the site’s development.

David Larson, superintendent for the Fort Davis National Historic Site, explained they are looking to set up bi-weekly calls to discuss next steps as the transition moves forward.

While council members expressed interest, the City Council agenda item was a discussion item only, so there was no vote as to a course of action.

More immediately, the Blackwell School will host two open houses, on August 10 and 17, both at 6 p.m. Alliance President Daniel Hernandez will be present to discuss next steps, as will NPS representatives.

As the property transfers ownership and falls under the purview of the federal government, the alliance will remain involved as a friends group, said Stafford. “The alliance isn’t going away,” she said.