Thursday, December 11, 2014

Orange you glad Stark moved to southeast Texas?

            William Henry Stark moved to Orange, Texas, in 1870 to work in the area sawmills, working his way up the ladder and marrying Miriam Melissa Lutcher, daughter of a partner in the Lutcher Moore Cypress Lumber Company of Lutcher, Louisiana. Stark managed two mills for his father-in-law and invested in other industries and real estate, leading to him become one of the most successful southeast Texas residents.
Stark Museum of Art
            So why is this weird?
            If you visit the small town — and we mean pretty small — of Orange, Texas, today, you’ll find the world-class art museum, the Stark Museum of Art, surrounded by the historic buildings of the W.H. Stark House and the Lutcher Theatre.
            The Stark Museum or Art contains one of the nation’s most significant collections of 19th and 20th century American Western art and artifacts, in addition to American Indian art, collections of glass and porcelain and rare books and manuscripts. Stark and his wife built the massive 14,000 square foot Queen Anne house in 1894 and lived there until 1936. Today, the exquisite home is open to the public and displays its stained glass windows, woodwork in cypress and long leaf pine and the family’s furnishings. The Lutcher Theater is a 1,460-seat performing arts facility that houses the largest performing arts series from Houston to New Orleans.
W.H. Stark House
            The most astounding legacy of Stark, however, can be attributed to his son, Henry Jacob Lutcher Stark — the magnificent Shangri-La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. The gardens’ 252 acres houses more than 300 plant species in five formal “rooms” as well as four sculpture rooms, a bird blind to observe nesting birds in Shangri La’s heronry and the Nature Center which includes a hands-on exhibit called the Nature Discovery Center, a laboratory, and three outdoor classrooms located in the cypress swamp. The gardens also include an Exhibit Hall, Discovery Theater, Children’s Garden, Exhibition Greenhouses, Cafe, and Garden Store.
Shangri La
            H.J. Lutcher Stark was inspired by the mystical retreat written about in “Lost Horizon” and wanted to create one of his own in southeast Texas. He established the “Shangri La” gardens along Adams Bayou in 1937, an oasis that included a cypress/tupelo swamp and lines of gorgeous azalea bushes, Stark’s favorite flower.
            In 1946, the gardens were opened to the public and thousands of visitors traveled to Orange to experience Shangri-La. A snowstorm in 1958 closed the gardens and they remained so for almost 50 years when, with the support of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, a private foundation that was established by Stark and his wife, Nelda, in 1961 prior to his death, reopened the estate. Today, the gardens are what Stark envisioned and so much more.
            During the holidays, Shangri La offers Evening Christmas Strolls where dazzling light displays and community-decorated Christmas trees greet visitors. The strolls are held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 11-13, 18-20 and 26-27. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and children and Shangri La members are admitted free. There is also half-price admission for each visitor with a non-perishable food item for one evening. Food donations will benefit Orange Christian Services. 
            Now orange you glad you read the whole blog?
            For information on attractions by the Stark Foundation, visit

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at

No comments:

Post a Comment