Stark family's cultural venues add to a getaway to Orange, Texas.
Orange, Texas, was named for the wild citrus groves growing along the banks of the Sabine River in the mid-1800s, but today this small town near Beaumont in southeast Texas has little to do with fruit. It is, however, a gateway to the region's bayou lands that straddle the Texas-Louisiana border.
At the Texas Travel Information Center off Interstate 10, stretch your legs along the raised boardwalk above the Blue Elbow Swamp, a forested wetlands reserve. With a little patience, you might spot an alligator, colorful woodpeckers, or playful nutria amongst the dense cypress trees. Then set off toward town for a leisurely lunch, shopping, and other appealing attractions.
ARCHITECTURE AND ART
The philanthropic Stark family is responsible for many of the cultural amenities found in Orange. Driving down West Main Avenue, you can't miss the three-story-high, 14,000-square-foot W.H. Stark House with its distinctive windowed turret. The home's architecture combines Queen Anne and Eastlake styles. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the prominent timber family called it home from 1894 to 1936. Fifteen rooms contain the personal belongings and collections of the Stark family. The W.H. Stark House is located at 610 W. Main Ave. Admission is limited to guests 6 years and older.
The Stark Museum of Art, 712 Green Ave., is another cultural institution worthy of exploration. Some of the artists represented here include John James Audubon, Frederic Remington, and Charles M. Russell.
At the museum's entrance is a muscular Plains Indian on horseback, raising a buffalo skull toward the sky in prayer. This 13-foot-tall bronze statue is only one of several impressive pieces. Rare books, decorative arts (porcelain and glass), and other artwork supplement the museum's primary collection of Western art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Stark house and museum are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday. Admission is $6, with discounts offered for senior citizens, students, and children.
Built between 1908 and 1911, First Presbyterian Church Lutcher Memorial Building boasts a granite exterior, Italian marble, and three prize-winning stained-glass windows purchased by Frances Ann Robinson Lutcher while visiting the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Sitting on top of the church is a copper cupola. The opalescent dome can be viewed from inside the church located at 902 Green Ave.
SHOPPING AND DINING
Four generations of the Harris family have run the Farmers' Mercantile (702 W. Division Ave.) since opening in 1928. Day-trippers typically pass over the expected feed and farm supplies and head straight for the shelved gift items and other goods. Seasonal offerings range from 14 varieties of homemade fudge in winter to citrus trees in the spring months.
Old Orange Café is a popular lunch spot that is housed in the town's former dairy building decorated with historical photos and antique milk bottles. Daily specials include soup, quiche, and the catch of the day. Don't be surprised if chef-owner David Claybar delivers your meal himself. Whatever you order, leave room for the delicious buttermilk pie. The café, located at 914 W. Division St., is closed on Saturday.
Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, another Stark family cultural offering, is especially scenic in the spring when some several thousand azaleas bloom. From a bird blind on Ruby Lake that is large enough to house a classroom of excited children, visitors can see the heronry. When a volunteer is on duty, guests may borrow high-quality binoculars or view the nesting spots up close on video monitors.
The 252-acre center combines formal gardens within a natural environment. For an additional fee, visitors can take an hour-long outpost tour aboard a pontoon through the bayou and learn about the wetlands. Visitors frequently see alligators, snakes, herons, osprey, and otters. Keep an eye out for the 1,200-year-old Pond Cypress, fondly referred to as the Survivor Tree. The center, located at 2011 W. Park Ave., is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday. Admission is $6 with discounts offered to senior citizens, students, and children.
The 1,460-seat Lutcher Theater hosts a range of professional performances from nationally touring musicals to country singers. The theater, which opened in 1980 with a performance by Liberace, is celebrating its 35th season this year. Upcoming shows include a concert featuring Vince Gill and the Time Jumpers (Nov. 4) and the musical, Ragtime (Dec. 12).
Few small towns offer the variety of big city amenities you'll find in Orange. It is easy to squeeze out a weekend's worth of fun in this budget-friendly town.
Barbara and Jim Twardowski are new contributors from Mandeville, La.
November/December 2015 Issue
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