BY Don McAlavy: Local Columnist
The man who built Clovis’ first school and first courthouse came to New Mexico to restore his health. He didn’t live long but he accomplished much in Clovis. His name was J. Sterling Marsh, born 1878, near Lynchburg, Va.
Marsh first located at Albuquerque, but then to El Paso, Texas. When Clovis was put on the map by the Santa Fe Railroad and the Belen Cutoff, he settled in eastern New Mexico.
The invigorating climate of Clovis and the area was thought to have cured his illness. Marsh chose to settle in the new railroad town of Clovis in January 1908.
Having worked in a lumber business in Virginia, he went to work building his own home for his wife, Nettie, and three children: Harry, 11; Ernest, 9; and Clyde, 7. The fourth child was Chester who was born in Clovis.
Marsh became busy with his own lumber company, called the J. Sterling Marsh Manufacturing Co. The town grew quickly and he became well known as an aspiring businessman, having been elected to serve on the first Clovis Board of Education from the fall of 1908 until his death.
Marsh and his construction company were awarded the contract on April 8, 1908, to build the new Clovis City School on the block given to the city by the Santa Fe Railroad. The location for the new school was at Seventh and Axtell streets. On March 12, 1909, Marsh completed the school that would handle children from the first through the 12th grades.
On Oct. 10, 1910, he was granted the contract to build the new Curry County Courthouse on the block bounded by Main Street on the east, Bent Avenue on the south, later to be named Seventh Street, Mitchell Street on the west and Eightht Street on the north. The block was given to the city by the Liebelt brothers who had homesteaded there in 1905. The courthouse faced the south, and people of Clovis recognized it as the “Yellow Brick Courthouse” when it was completed on April 18, 1911.
Marsh’s health declined during the winter of 1911-1912, and his promising career was stopped when he died on the March 7, 1912, in Las Cruces. His wife died in 1939, and both of them were buried in the cemetery out of West Seventh Street.
Together their four sons had 16 children.
Of course we all know Sterling and Nettie’s second son, Ernest S. Marsh, grew up in Clovis and graduated from Clovis High School in 1920. Ernest and his brother, Harry, had quit school at an early age to help their mother with a livelihood. Ernest sold papers, shined shoes, did odd jobs and became a soda jerk with the old W. C. Parrish Kandy Kitchen in the 300 block of Main Street. Later he jerked sodas for Bill Duckworth at the Southwestern Drug Co., corner of Grand and Main, and acquired the nickname “Maggie” as he would often play the song with that name in it on the old Edison Phonograph.
Ernest “Maggie” Marsh, second son of Sterling Marsh, went to work for the Santa Fe Railroad and worked his way up to president and then chairman.