The Lincoln: A Sustainable Community in the High Desert - Public Goods

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The Lincoln: A Sustainable Community in the High Desert

Driving along US 90 sixty miles north of the Mexican border, Marfa—the small desert town in far West Texas—becomes clearly visible in the seeming boundlessness of the terrain where three chains of rolling mountains scrape the surrounding sky.

Photo by Shannon Moberly

On either side of the highway, dust devils rip through the arid plains, funneling up copper sand to a blue vault that, come night, boasts the most spectacular, star-studded views of the Milky Way Galaxy. As day breaks, the town shimmers and reflects and entering it feels like a sudden shift in energy, a mystic energy. 

As the locals will tell you, Marfa chooses you. It is one of the final American frontiers, holding onto the folklore and history of the Wild West. A hundred years ago, it’s where soldiers in the Mexican Revolution and both World Wars set up camps to defend their causes; today it is an internationally known art colony. In the heart of town, a salmon-colored building stands tall with its ornate cupolas and cornices.

This is the Presidio County Courthouse, erected in 1886, and across Lincoln Street is The Lincoln, an eclectic lodging community that formerly functioned as the courthouse’s stable yard. Later in the 1920s a central residence was built, and people replaced the livestock. Surrounding smaller units, or casitas, eventually cropped up and operated as apartments for almost a century where various residents, owners, and remodels breathed life into them. By the time Adam Walton, an LA-based actor, and his partner Clark Childers, a writer, bought the property in 2015, they had their work cut out for them. 

Photo by Shannon Moberly

“It was more of a grand idea than a vision,” Walton said of the project to renovate the 120-year old patchwork of structures and convert it into a space for both long-term residents and overnight travelers. The property had long fallen into disrepair: it needed electricity, plumbing, and a new roof. Demolition days were long and exhaustive; they scaled crumbling roofs, stripped away five layers of old shingles, and dislodged tens of thousands of rusty nails.

To add to the list of obstacles, resources and labor are increasingly limited in Marfa, whose population registers at roughly 1,800. “We had to learn to do things ourselves if we wanted to get them done,” Walton recalled of the project. “In Marfa,” he continued, “the pace of life is slower and it became a daily study in patience and letting go of preconceived notions. We really had to get used to throwing ourselves into unfamiliar territory and leaning into dirty work.”

After three years of construction and design, The Lincoln opened its doors, operating true to the property’s original plan for long-term residents while offering a unique experience for travelers in a courtyard-compound setting. “Our goal has always been to create an environment that allows long-term residents and visitors alike to congregate in a place that they both can call home,” said Walton.

Coupled with that goal is Walton and Childers’ penchant for Marfa-inspired minimalism. To them, minimalism extends beyond the aesthetic, encompassing the way they live their lives and operate The Lincoln. As long-term residents of Marfa (the couple lives in one of the units), they believe it is their responsibility to minimize their footprint. They achieve this by way of renewable power and low-impact products. Because recycling is neither easy nor convenient in the high desert, they shift their focus from their output to their consumption. “We found Public Goods because we were searching for ways to minimize or eliminate our personal plastic use,” said Childers. Public Goods’ sugar-cane based plastic bottles make sustainability that much more accessible for them.

Photo by Shannon Moberly

Another reason Walton and Childers gravitated towards Public Goods’ household and personal care products to stock in their units is that they aligned with their mission for “quality sustainability and aesthetic appeal,” adding “the brand and labeling wasn’t busy with advertising itself, so that it could fit the minimalism of our space and of our town.”

Photo by Shannon Moberly

As advocates for historic preservation, living wages, and community-oriented environments, their sustainable practices extend into an egalitarian sphere. They are the first business in Marfa to work with the city council to establish a precedent for guaranteed affordable housing in their unique business model. 

Equally unique is Walton and Childers’ artistic taste. Each room and exterior at The Lincoln—distinct in design so that no two are alike—is rooted in West Texas ethos and celebrates local artists and local skilled labor. Carolyn Macartney’s precision and skill appear in the eye-catching letter work that graces the entrance wall of The Lincoln; framed prints of LéAna Clifton’s mixed media adorn the walls. From rich textiles to mounted longhorns to papercrete exposed walls to arched doorways to hot horse trough baths to cedar ceilings, a penchant for the preservation and appreciation of natural beauty surfaces. 

Outside in one of the property’s two courtyards, soaring buttes, those isolated plateaued hilltops synonymous with the southwest, and colorful cacti appear in a vibrant mural hand painted by artist Allison Hall. A sense of community is maintained through these courtyards complete with bocce ball, fire pits, and an outdoor grill. There’s also a 10-foot soaking tank repurposed from a water trough from a local ranch to offer a refreshing dip in the desert. On special occasions guests are treated to a heated soaking tank and an outdoor movie projector.

Photo by Shannon Moberly

A communal baring of souls exists here in the courtyards where familiar and new faces flicker around a glowing fire pit, share meals, and gaze up at the stars. A map of the world’s light pollution reveals that this part of the Big Bend region has virtually zero light pollution, a stark contrast from the perpetual, excessive, and obtrusive brightness that blankets major cities like LA and NYC.

Throughout the property, native plants of the desert thrive: from prickly pear and eagle’s claw cacti to the spiny ocotillo (Spanish for “little torch”), which produces blooms of fire engine red and orange. Bright bursts of bluebonnet, the Lone Star State flower, and citrus-colored wildflowers attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bee populations all living in symbiotic harmony. There’s even several turtle rescues Walton and Childers adopted to live as long-term Lincoln residents. 

A single traffic light directs cars, making Marfa accessible by foot. Start the morning with a savory ham and gruyere croissant from Aster Marfa (@aster_marfa) located next door. Add on a cup of Big Bend Coffee Roasters’ organic, fair trade Dark Skies Vienna roast; a portion of the sales for this particular roast gets donated to McDonald Observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative that combats light pollution in West Texas. Around the corner from The Lincoln, Jett’s Grill serves jalapeño fried sirloin and angus burgers to guests in a beautiful courtyard setting. The restaurant is a permanent fixture at the charming Hotel Paisano, where in the summer of 1955, James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor were guests during the filming for Giant, what would be Dean’s last film.

Across train tracks that stretch to California, Planet Marfa, an eccentric beer garden featuring a teepee and renovated school bus, attracts sixties hippies and millennials with its no frills attitude. Sprinkled throughout town, over a dozen galleries and studios shape Marfa’s renowned arts scene, which first began in 1970 when New York minimalist artist Donald Judd relocated to Marfa and began converting buildings he had purchased into art installations. Today, the town celebrates its art scene in the form of various annual festivals and exhibits. 

On the outskirts of town, juxtaposed by art galleries, boutiques, and antique shops, abandoned and dilapidated adobe homes and their discarded objects reveal past lives: a mid-century ice box, a worn blue sock, broken vintage Magnavox televisions, and cigarette packages with bleached and faded lettering. Back on US 90, across the vast, dusty landscape of the desert, the Stardust Motel sign rises high in an empty lot.

Photo by Shannon Moberly

The sun crests the mountains, then descends to make room for the moon. Sweeping headlights of cars become a regular feature of night vision. Nine miles east of town, the Marfa Lights Viewing Center offers a chance to see the mystifying lights that have attracted celebrities and scientists alike. Locals describe the Marfa Lights as a subtle, eerie phenomenon of lights that appear to dance, dim, disappear, then reappear directly above town. 

In the stillness of the night almost a mile high here on the Marfa Plateau, the stucco houses and the community they construct intensify, mirroring the beam for Marfa’s solitary way of life. “Coming from LA, the high desert of West Texas was not a place either of us thought we would live or start a business in,” Walton admitted, “but we couldn’t be happier we landed here.” The Lincoln may have started out as some pie-in-the-sky pipe dream, but through thoughtful craftsmanship and curation, it proves that there is no difference between designing property for people and designing property for the environment. 

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