Situated in Texas along the southern Louisiana border, Orange is undiscovered by most people living outside the city limits. Many know it simply as a town on the way to Louisiana or as the first stop in Texas along IH-10. However, there is much to discover in Orange, Texas, from its rich history to its exciting future.
The roots of Orange run deep into the 17th century, when the Atakapa Indians, the first known settlers, arrived in the area. Next came the Spanish, who were followed by the French. But it wasn’t until the early 18th century when pioneers found a home in the town along the Sabine River. After several name changes, the town was officially named Orange.
As the town grew it quickly established its role as the "gateway" between the east and west sections of the country. It served as a port on the Sabine River and by 1914 was accommodating large ships. The construction of ships gave way to prosperity within the city, and the population grew. With the addition of lumber mills and a U.S. Naval Station, Orange was quickly established as a booming epicenter for industrial enterprises. This continues today with the city’s world-famous Chemical Row, home to manufacturers like DuPont, Firestone, Chevron, Lanxess, and more household names.
It is difficult to discuss Orange’s economic development without mentioning the Stark family. William Henry Stark married Miriam Melissa Lutcher (whose father co-owned the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company), which led him to financial success. His investments in area businesses and his progressive ideas made a huge impact on the city’s expansion.
It wasn't only Stark's business endeavors that left a mark on Orange. He and his wife shared a deep passion for the arts and a dedication to philanthropy. They instilled these values in their son, H. J. Lutcher Stark, who carried them out in the community. Lutcher Stark eventually married Nelda Childers, and together they established the Nelda C. and H. J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, a key contributor to the city’s cultural pulse and growing name.
One of the Stark Foundation's many offerings is the W. H. Stark House, the fully restored 1894 Victorian home of William Henry Stark, his wife, and his son. The moment they enter the door, visitors will retreat to a time far removed from the fast-paced, technology-enhanced days of the 21st century. The 14,000 square-foot home has been beautifully restored and includes the family's original furnishings as well as their decorative art. Guided tours lead guests through fifteen rooms and three stories, offering them a glimpse of this prominent family’s lifestyle and the simplicity of days gone by.
Across the street is the acclaimed Stark Museum of Art, which houses the personal collection of H. J. Lutcher Stark. With a passion for the art of the American West, he amassed an impressive collection of paintings, sculpture, and prints, from nineteenth century frontier artists to the twentieth century artistic colonies in New Mexico. Other collections include baskets, pottery, and weaving in the American Indian Collection, the Steuben Collection featuring the only complete set of "The United States in Crystal," American Birds in porcelain by Dorothy Doughty, and more, including special exhibitions. As a program of the Stark Foundation, the Stark Museum of Art allows visitors to share the passion of H. J. Lutcher Stark and learn about the stunning land, dramatic people, and diverse wildlife of the American West.
Another of Stark's passions was the mystical Shangri La, set to reopen in the spring of 2008 after nearly fifty years of solitude. Stark originally opened Shangri La in 1946 as a natural wonderland where time stands still. Magnificent azaleas reigned in the botanical garden, which also included a deciduous forest, cypress-tupelo swamps, and a lake home to thousands of birds. However, the magic ended abruptly in 1958 with a major snowstorm. Stark's precious azaleas were destroyed, and Shangri La was closed. It wasn't until more than forty years later, as a program of the Stark Foundation, that Shangri La was set to become a reality again. The new Shangri La features nine gardens, a nature center with boat excursions on Adams Bayou, extensive educational programming, and much more, making it a premier educational destination and a must-see attraction for residents and travelers alike.
Rounding out the list of the Stark Foundation's cultural attractions is the renowned Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts. A central part of the Orange community, the theater features some of Broadway's most popular shows, including Hairspray, Annie, andMovin' Out. Award-winning artists such as Clint Black and Marvin Hamlisch also made Lutcher Theater a stop on their latest tours. As with the Stark Foundation's other facilities, education is a prime component of the theater's programming, with children's shows held during the day for class field trips. With something for everyone, Lutcher Theater is a world-class venue for any enthusiast of live entertainment.
Lutcher Stark's grandmother, Frances Ann Lutcher, also made a mark in Orange with the historic First Presbyterian Church. She commissioned the building as a memorial to the Lutcher family and dedicated it to Orange in 1912. Designed in the classic Greek Revival architectural style, it is constructed primarily of granite and Italian marble and features the only opalescent glass dome in the United States. The rare art-glass windows are another highlight, for they were made by hand techniques that have since become obsolete. The elegant structure was also the first air-conditioned public building west of the Mississippi River. With so much detail and history, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, further sealing its place in Orange's rich heritage.
Another attraction making the National Register of Historic Places is the Heritage House, a two-story home formerly occupied by the Sims family. The home offers a charming example of the typical upper-middle-class lifestyle from the turn-of-the-century through the 1940s. Even more treasures about Orange’s history can be unearthed right next door in the Heritage History Museum, which holds pictures and artifacts detailing the early pioneers and key players who made Orange what it is today.
While there are many Orange attractions to celebrate the past, there are also countless memories still to be made. The City of Orange takes great strides to bring residents and visitors together through various activities and attractions. One main event is Art in the Park, a one-day festival held annually to celebrate local and regional artists. Revelers can purchase their favorite art pieces while enjoying the sounds of blues and jazz music in Stark Park. A Kids' Alley provides hands-on activities for children, making it a perfect outing for families from all over the region.
There is no shortage of entertainment to be found in Orange. From museums to nature centers, festivals to parades, there is something for everyone to enjoy. With the help of residents, city leaders, and the Stark Foundation, Orange will become a premier travel destination. While its world-class facilities may draw you here, its charming community will make you never want to leave.