Past Exhibits

Around the Town: Scenes from Historic Orange 

Downtown Orange (1899)

This is a colorized black and white photo, captured (most likely) from the porch of a house around Seventh and Elm Street, looking towards the river. It shows Orange at a time of major growth and development. While the city was becoming much larger and more advanced, this photo was taken at a time when streets were still unpaved and streetlights didn’t exist. Large chunks of what today would be considered downtown were still undeveloped, as seen by the large empty lots and barn-like structures.

The two most recognizable landmarks are The W.H. Stark House and the Green Avenue Baptist Church. The W.H. Stark House would have been around 5 years old when this photo was taken. The large elm tree, which stood in the front corner, is clearly visible, as is the distinctive turret. The House is also clearly bigger than almost anything around it at the time. The Green Avenue Baptist Church featured a distinct steeple at the front of the building. This simpler wood structure was constructed in 1884 and replaced around 1915 with the large dome building you can see there today. The Sanborn maps show how rapidly and quickly the city of Orange developed in a short amount of time, quadrupling in size in the span of 15 years. The W.H. Stark House is the only structure in this photo that remains standing today.

Primary image courtesy of the Eunice R. Benckenstein Library & Archive, Orange, Texas.

Historic Sanborn maps courtesy of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.  

Orange Ice, Light, and Water Company 

Few companies had a bigger impact on the day-to-day lives of people in Orange than the Orange Ice, Light, and Water Company (OILW). Founded in 1892 as the Orange Ice, Light, and Waterworks Company, it was reorganized in 1905, dropping “works” from the name. OILW provided Orange citizens for the first time with power, clean water, and refrigeration. Its main plant was right downtown at Front Street.

As the name might suggest, ice caused the most excitement in the early days. The industrial icemaker at the main plant made daily ice deliveries across Orange possible. This was 30 years before domestic refrigerators were available. As more and more electric appliances and gadgets were invented, customers could see the latest technology at the OILW showroom. It was filled with modern marvels like fans, toasters, and vacuum cleaners. Founded by local businessmen, including the Starks and the Browns, the company operated at a huge loss for most of its existence. Its purpose was to improve the standard of living in Orange, more than to make a profit. In the 1920s, it was sold to larger power companies. Much of Orange still uses the grid layout put in place by OILW over 100 years ago. 

Images courtesy of the Eunice R. Benckenstein Library & Archive, Orange, Texas.

Sunset Grove Golf Course 

After three years of design and construction, the course opened in 1925. Sunset Grove Golf Course was very much a family project for Lutcher Stark. Several stories about its creation involve a feud with his cousin, Edgar Brown Jr., owner of the Pinehurst Country Club. Lutcher, not to be outdone, hired world-renowned golf course designer, Donald Ross to design his new course. Ross happened to be the manager and designer of the famous Pinehurst Golf Course in North Carolina. Of the hundreds of courses Ross designed in North America, Sunset Grove was the first of only three in Texas. Lutcher’s wife, Nita Stark, chose the name.

A massive project costing nearly 750,000 dollars, the course was largely a gift for William Stark, Lutcher’s father. Golf was the perfect, low intensity outdoor activity for the aging patriarch. William, who took up golf in his 70s, continued to play even after he was nearly blind. He used bright, yellow golf balls and his caddy would hold up a bright yellow stick in the direction of the hole. Presumably, William would swing at the yellow blur at his feet, aiming for the yellow blur in the distance. Nearly 100 years old, the course continues to be played today, the lasting legacy of a loving, feuding family. 

Images courtesy of the Eunice R. Benckenstein Library & Archive, Orange, Texas

Henke & Pillot Grocery Store

Henke & Pillot was a local Houston grocery chain, founded in the 1870s. The company grew in size, eventually expanding south to Galveston and west to Orange. At its height, it had almost 30 locations across Southeast Texas. These photos are from 1949, taken of the Orange Henke & Pillot store, which took up most of the block now occupied by Stark Park.

This was probably taken sometime in late March or early April, given the ads for Easter baskets. Evidence of the post-WWII economic boom can be seen in the packed shelves and huge amount of available goods. The store is decorated with aerial photos that today would be historic, but were contemporary shots of downtown at the time. In 1956, the chain was bought by Kroger, but they continued to use the Henke & Pillot brand for several years. The Orange location met a dramatic end, burning down in a major fire in 1961. The store was not replaced and shortly afterwards a new Kroger opened elsewhere in the city. In 1966, Kroger retired the Henke & Pillot name (which was still in use at its 20 remaining locations). The trees and fountains of today’s Stark Park are a far cry from the neon temple of capitalism the block once housed. 

Images courtesy of the Eunice R. Benckenstein Library & Archive, Orange, Texas

“Merry Christmas to all – and to all who drive by!”

Santa Through the Ages (1880 – 1920)


Clement Clarke Moore (1779 – 1863), author, McLoughlin Brothers (1828 – 1920), publisher, The Night Before Christmas or A Visit of St. Nicholas, 1888, printed text and ink on paper, 12 x 10 inches, The W.H. Stark House, Orange, Texas, OD.2013.81.

Santa Claus is a Christmas classic and a staple in American holiday celebrations. Santa as we know him today is a combination of dozens, if not hundreds, of traditions, legends, and historical figures from around the world. The W.H. Stark House is excited to present Santa Through the Ages. This exterior display features images of Santa from the House collection spanning 40 years, from 1888 – 1918. During these years, the concept and look of the Santa Claus we know today rapidly evolved in America. The first image is from the cover of an 1888, illustrated copy of the classic Christmas poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” It is now known more commonly as “The Night Before Christmas.” 


Clement Clarke Moore (1779 – 1863), author, McLoughlin Brothers (1828 – 1920), publisher, The Night Before Christmas or A Visit of St. Nicholas, 1888, printed text and ink on paper, 12 x 10 inches, The W.H. Stark House, Orange, Texas, OD.2013.81.

“The Night Before Christmas” is one of the most important poems in American history. It is the foundational document of the American Santa. The story has also been adapted, reinterpreted, and used by people and cultures from around the world. In 1823, it was published in a local paper in the town of Troy, New York by an anonymous author. Years later, poet Clement Clarke Moore eventually took credit but many today believe Henry Livingston Jr. was actually the original author. The poem is largely based off of old Dutch-American legends from the New York area, with reindeer being the most famous element. The poem also introduces new ideas like Santa visiting households on Christmas Eve. It became extremely popular and many artists began making illustrated versions of the story. The W.H. Stark House has three of them. This image is a scene taken from the 1888 version, illustrating the line “down the chimney St. Nicholas came.” The poem created the basic character of Santa Claus, but illustrators told us what he looked like.


E. Lecky, author, Emily J. Harding (1877 – 1902), artist, Raphael Tuck & Sons (1866 – 1959), A Letter from Old Father Christmas, c. 1890, chromolithographs on paper with metal staple binding, 9 7/8 x 6 3/4 x 1/8 inches, The W.H. Stark House, Orange, Texas, OD.2013.79.

The name “Santa Claus” comes from the Dutch traditions of Sinterklaas. But this is not the only source of inspiration for the American Santa. The British Father Christmas is also an influence. This character was originally more associated with Christmas celebrations for adults and was not a gift giver. He appears quite famously as the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. However, in the Victorian Age, he began to develop more associations as a gift giver for children. Depictions range widely, with everything from a fat and happy “Bacchus-like” character to a solemn, slender wizard. This Christmas card from 1890 was sent to Lutcher Stark when he was three or four. It features a dignified, older Father Christmas carrying toys for children.


Frey, Charles D., Holiday Number, Orange Leader, December 18, 1908, Eunice R. Benckenstein Library and Archive, Orange, Texas.

It’s hard to overestimate the impact of marketing and advertising on Santa Claus. In fact, the bright and colorful Santa ads made during the Holidays are now one of the major sources for Santa traditions. This is a full page, color illustration of Santa driving a car full of toys. It was made for a special Christmas edition of the Orange Leader in 1908. It is essentially selling Orange. Santa is racing down the streets toward a prosperous future. It is also a great way for the Orange Leader to sell more papers since festive issues were often collected each year. In custom, local ads such as this, Santa was adapted and embraced by communities across the nation.


Clement Clarke Moore (1779 – 1863), author, Henry Altemus Company (1842 1936), publisher, The Night Before Christmas, 1918, printed text and ink on paper, 5 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 1/4 inches, The W.H. Stark House, Orange, Texas, OD.2013.75.

Technology played a huge role in making Santa available for everyone. Illustrations, especially in color, were very expensive in the 1800s. They were either complicated block prints or hand colored. In the early 1900s, new printing methods made this process much cheaper. One of them was pointillism, making an image out of lots of little dots. This 1918 illustrated edition of “The Night Before Christmas” uses the pointillism technique. Cheaper printing meant that more people could afford books with images. New technology allowed for more posters, more ads, and just more Santas. It’s also clear how much the look of Santa refined between 1888 and 1918. The later Santa looks similar to the ones we see today – a jolly, round figure with a white beard and simple red suit. Over one hundred years later this basic image continues to be used and reused every year. But far from being stagnant, Santa continues to adapt and change in ways that reflect current trends, keeping the magic alive and fresh each Christmas.

Living Legacy

Get active and give back! Discover the many ways the W.H. Stark family was active and involved in their community in the new exhibit in the adjacent Carriage House, Living Legacy. Featuring many touching stories of how the W.H. Stark family helped those in their community and never before exhibited objects from the Collection of The W.H. Stark House, Living Legacy will inspire you to get involved.

Share your stories of community service by posting to our Padlet wall at padlet.com/whstarkhouse/livinglegacy

Preserving the Past

An exhibit at The W.H. Stark House on view March 29, 2016 through March 11, 2017, Preserving the Past, celebrates caring for the past by preserving family treasures. The Tower Room on the third floor of the Stark House is used as the exhibit space, and features a hands-on interactive area. The exhibit is the last stop on the regular tour, giving visitors a special experience in the historic setting.

The exhibit space is divided into two areas covering four themes: textiles, books, papers and photographs, and glass and ceramics, and this space gives visitors the opportunity to look out from the turret area, which boasts a 180 degree view of downtown Orange, Texas.

This thematic exhibition explores how the Stark House collection came to be, with stories of the W.H. Stark family’s love of collecting and moments from their everyday lives. Rarely seen objects from the collection have been pulled from storage to be displayed in this special exhibit. Preserving the Past also encourages visitors to preserve their own past with information and resources about caring for family treasures.

To Have and To Hold

A new exhibition at The W.H. Stark House, To Have and To Hold, celebrates the classic love story of Miriam Lutcher and W.H. Stark. The Tower Room of the Stark House is used as the exhibit space, with an interactive area in the turret. The exhibition is the last stop on the regular tour, giving visitors an extraordinary experience in the historic setting.

This thematic exhibition explores weddings and anniversaries in the late 1800s and early 1900s using the experiences of the W.H. Stark family. From their December 1881 wedding to their 1931 golden anniversary party, the exhibition features rarely displayed objects from the Stark House collection and historic photographs and documents. Highlighted in the exhibition center is Miriam Lutcher Stark’s lace Wedding Dress. To Have and To Hold offers visitors a never-before-seen 360 degree view of this spectacular object.

On view from Saturday, December 5, 2015 through Saturday, March 5, 2016.