April 2007 Park of the Month
Starr Family Home State Historic Site
Historic Starr Family Home Shines Year Round In Marshall
If you're looking for a place to experience a bit of 19th century Texas, then spend a couple of hours or couple of days at the Starr Family Home State Historic Site in the picturesque town of Marshall.
Start with a stroll through the lush gardens of the three-acre site and drink in the floral sights and smells of camellias, azaleas and unusual saucer tulips. Then, treat yourself to a guided tour of the resplendent 137-year-old mansion known as Maplecroft. The Italianate, whitewashed wood frame home with a New Orleans flair is chock full of handsome antiques and priceless family heirlooms.
Transport yourself into the 1800s by booking an overnight stay at the Rosemont Cottage, the surviving wing of all Dr. James Harper and Harriet Starr's two-story, frame home that fell victim to a fire-inducing lightning bolt and was dismantled in 1914. The quaint, four-room cottage, built in the late 1830s, today serves as a bed and breakfast for couples and others seeking a nostalgic getaway amid Victorian elegance.
Wake up in a queen-sized, hand-carved Mallard bed transported upriver from New Orleans in antebellum Texas when paddlewheelers could still reach nearby Jefferson. Then, treat yourself to a Continental breakfast of fresh fruit, juice, yogurt, cereal, pastries and coffee at the dining table that looks out through bay windows onto manicured estate grounds. Rocking chairs on the front porch entice guests to linger a spell to soak up the sound of songbirds and hum of small-town Texas life.
The clapboard cottage, which features the original wood floors and 12-foot ceilings, is one of five historic structures at Starr Family Home State Historic Site. Stately Maplecroft, the ancestral mansion of the Starr Family that’s named for the Virginia red maples the patriarch imported, serves as the centerpiece of the state park compound that also includes the early 1900s Starr-Blake Home and an old school house. The latter, formerly a servant's quarters, was attended by the six daughters of Clara and James Franklin (Frank) Starr, one of Dr. Starr's two sons. During holidays and special occasions, the Starr-Blake Home hosts candlelight dinners amid Victorian surroundings.
Few individuals played such a prominent role in the early days of the Republic of Texas, yet received so little recognition, as did Dr. Starr. The Ohioan's legacy lives on as the namesake of Starr County in South Texas and more significantly in the Starr Family Home State Historic Site.
The self-educated physician followed his brother, Franklin, to Nacogdoches in 1837 shortly after the Republic of Texas broke away from Mexico. Texas Presidents Sam Houston and Mirabeau B. Lamar named Dr. Starr to several key positions with the new nation, including secretary of the Texas Treasury. The Southern aristocrat went on to become a land agent, forming a company with Frank, making them two of Texas' earliest land barons. Though he opposed secession, Dr. Starr supported the Confederate government and served as the Confederate agent for the postal service west of the Mississippi.
The physician's framed collection of Republic of Texas currency, signed in his hand, in the Maplecroft library is just one of the many collections and antiques on display inside the mansion. A 45-minute guided tour of the mansion ($4 for adults, $1 for children 12 and younger) takes guests through much of the handsomely appointed 5,600-square-foot home that features amenities that were rarely found in late 1800s Texas.
Frank Starr and his family enjoyed running water collected from the home's water tower, lamps and heaters fueled by a sub-floor carbide gas plant, a precursor of the modern-day intercom and a voluminous library frequented by locals who could check out books and periodicals. Many of the family’s books still line the remaining bookcases of the home's original 26 that were labeled A to Z. Docents like to point out a small hole in the "G" bookcase, believed to be from a stray or intentional shot fired one night from outside.
That Maplecroft retains the look and feel of one of New Orleans' finest Garden District homes is no coincidence. Frank Starr's sister Pamela and wealthy father-in-law George Clapp, who both lived in the Crescent City, helped influence the mansion’s design. Clapp financed the employment of New Orleans shipwrights, who built the home of sturdy timbers and handcrafted stair railings, wainscoting, window frames and notched Virginia pine floors to give it a warm, solid feel. Check out Maplecroft’s 10 coal-burning fireplaces constructed with marble hearths and iron grates cast in New Orleans, topped with ornate marble-and-resin mantels from Italy. The striking brocade drapes in the formal parlor are original to the home.
Retired middle school Principal Cathy Marshall, a history buff who manages the historic site, used to bring her fifth graders each year to tour the Starr mansion.
"Some of my kids would walk in and touch the walls, and sigh, 'This is so beautiful.' It really was a step back in time for them." the former educator recalls.
Marshall says historical accounts she has read indicate that Dr. Starr was a "very smart and generous" man. He donated the land for the town's Episcopal Church and sent $1,100 a month to his former servant for her upkeep after she moved back to Nacogdoches. Generosity must run in the family. James Harper Starr and his wife Clara gave each of the six daughters $10,000 and a home when they reached adulthood. Three of the residences, including the historic site's Starr-Blake Home, still stand in the neighborhood.
Several period dresses on display upstairs and downstairs date to the 1870s and were once worn by Mrs. Starr, Mrs. Clapp and one of the daughters. An exquisite pearl necklace, Stueben crystal, blue Venetian glassware, Wedgewood china and ornate clocks from France seen on the tour attest to the Starr family's taste and wealth.
The Starr Family Home State Historic Site is one of 112 recreational and historic sites that make up the Texas State Park System. The historic site is located at 407 W. Travis, several blocks west of U.S. Highway 59 North. park is open 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. It is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For more information visit the Starr Family Home State Historic Site.
Article by Rob McCorkle