Main Street Marshall
Music, food and art lure folks to a downtown revival
See related: TH Essentials-Marshall
By Randy Mallory
Founded as the seat of Harrison County in 1841, Marshall embraces its history.
When I heard that Marshall is hopping with new activities downtown and even claims the title “Birthplace of Boogie-Woogie,” I decided to revisit the northeast Texas town hugging the Louisiana line.
I begin my exploration at the 1901 Harrison County Courthouse. Designed by influential architect J. Riely Gordon in the Renaissance Revival style, with corn-yellow brick, pink granite columns, and carved limestone capitals, the courthouse recently underwent a $10 million restoration. Inside, ornate blue plasterwork adorns the courtroom, and golden light from a vaulted stained-glass cupola filters into the central atrium with its striking cast-iron stairway. Outside, a seven-foot statue of Lady Justice rises from the cupola, surrounded by 12 gilded eagles.
The historic courthouse glows with white lights in November and December during a holiday display known as Wonderland of Lights. Year round, the edifice houses the Harrison County Historical Museum, which offers courthouse tours and stages exhibits on county history. I join a tour with museum director Janet Cook, who recounts the remarkable expansions of 1925 and 1927. “To add more space, workers cut the east and west wings free, top to bottom, put them on rails, and slowly moved them out,” she explains. “They filled in the gap so skillfully, you can hardly tell they were moved.” I look closely, and she’s right.
I find another skillfully restored structure a few blocks south of the square at the 1871 mansion called Maplecroft. It’s the centerpiece of the Texas Historical Commission’s three-acre Starr Family Home State Historic Site, where seven structures interpret an early Texas dynasty. After the Civil War, the Starr family owned a million acres across Texas and helped build the state’s railroad and cotton industries. Freshly refurbished inside and out and filled with family heirlooms, Maplecroft embodies the Starrs’ elegant life at the turn of the 20th Century.
“The Starrs were fashionable but not flashy,” curator Megan Maxwell tells me on a tour of the stately parlor and dining room, which are ornamented with Louis XVI-style furniture. She points out graceful fireplace mantels that look like marble but are actually made of faux-finished slate. I’m amazed at the patterned floor of the downstairs hallway; it’s a reproduction of the original hand-painted canvas floor cloth.
One block east of the square, at Houston and Lafayette streets, a vertical pattern grabs my attention. Blue, green, red, and yellow geometric metal shapes cover the exterior of an otherwise nondescript building. In 2009, Uruguayan artist Volf Roitman in-stalled the art piece at the request of the building’s owner, transforming a plain brick wall into an abstract artwork.
Two blocks down North Bolivar Street, youngsters work on their own art outside the Michelson Museum of Art. Inside the museum, more kids and parents hear a drummer play in a gallery filled with early-20th-Century American paintings, including pieces by the museum’s namesake, Russian-American artist Leo Michelson, whose widow chose Marshall as the beneficiary of his life’s works. The museum also houses a permanent collection of African masks and Chinese opera puppets, and hosts traveling exhibits.
From the November 2012 issue.