Web Extra: Maplecroft Gets a 19th-Century Makeover
In the November edition, Randy Mallory explores Marshall’s historic downtown, where Maplecroft serves as a magnificent centerpiece. Editorial Intern Elena Watts catches up with Curator Megan Maxwell to learn more about the mansion’s history and recent renovation.
In the northeast Texas town of Marshall, Megan Maxwell guides tourists through an historic house musem filled with period furnishings original to the Starr family. More than 90 percent of the furnishings on display in Maplecroft, a nearly century-and-a-half old residence that continues to stand on three acres downtown, are original to the house. The 5,600-square-foot, Greek-revival residence recently underwent extensive renovations by the Texas Historical Commission.
Dallas conservator Michale Van Enter determined through paint analysis that the exterior of the house was originally painted off-white. Layers of paint indicated it was painted green for many years. The analysis also revealed that the house was well prepped for its original paint, but that subsequent paint preparations were not done well. The six-month exterior construction project, which also included installation of central air and heat and replacement of windows, was completed in August of 2011.
The 1871 Maplecroft mansion is the centerpiece of the Texas Historical Commission's Starr Family Home State Historic Site, which interprets an early Texas dynasty.
The one-year interior renovation was completed in two stages. The downstairs reopened in November 2011 followed by the upstairs, which was completed in May 2012. Architects and collections experts determined the collection would support a 19th-Century interpretation, composed the interpretation plan, and advised the staff.
With their staff, Curator Megan Maxwell and Site Manager Whit Edwards operate the entire historic site, including the museum. The Historic Sites Division's Chief Curator Laura Denormandie-Bass and Interpretive Planner Hal Simon helped them research fashion and interior design publications for room color recommendations. Furniture arrangement, paint colors, wallpaper patterns, and ingrain carpet colors and construction were selected to accurately reflect the décor of the generation that built and first lived in the house.
With the exception of a few rooms, the original interior paint colors could not be determined because the wall plaster had been replaced often during the house’s 141 years. Original carpet remnants found in storage and original moth-eaten, faded wool drapes still hanging in the Parlor helped the team determine a color scheme.
“What was amazing to me was how vibrant the colors still were — the green, the red, the purple, the gold — even though they had faded a lot over the years and were dusty and moth-eaten, you could still really see what colors were in the originals,” Maxwell said.
They believed the Axminster carpet came from the Parlor because of its large floral medallion design and its thick, plush quality, commonly used in public, highly decorated rooms. These carpets were common in the 19th Century, but not everybody could afford them. Such was the case with the Historical Commission. In place of an expensive reproduction of the original, an ingrain wool carpet with a design that would have been available at the time, woven on the same kind of loom, had to suffice.
“The Starrs were no different from us today — they modernized the house and added electricity and gas furnaces to make the house more modern and comfortable,” Maxwell said. “But for whatever reason, they left behind and continued to use the Victorian furniture that had been in the house all along.”
Once heavily wooded with Maple trees imported from Virginia where Frank and his brother Amory attended The University of Virginia, the grounds have since been planted with azaleas. Seven buildings including three family residences — Maplecroft, Rosemont and the Blake House — have withstood more than a century and four generations of the Starr family.
Frank’s father, James Harper Starr, was a physician well known as President Lamar’s Secretary of the Treasury in the Republic of Texas and as a Postal Agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War. His historically important business activities included management of Texas’ lands and establishment of one its earliest banks. He was known as an astute businessman who was scrupulously fair in settling land grants and land disputes. James and his brother Franklin J. Starr, were born to parents of English descent with 17th-Century roots in Connecticut. They arrived in the unchartered lands of the Lone Star State by way of Ohio and Georgia.
The 29-year-old Franklin arrived first, in 1835, while Texas was still under Mexican rule. The Texas Revolution erupted a year later. He practiced law with William Travis Barrett of Alamo fame in San Felipe until Santa Anna’s troops forced folks north — an exodus called the Runaway Scrape. James, four years his junior, joined his brother in Nacogdoches in 1837, the same year Franklin contracted a fever that ended his life. Franklin’s only son died shortly after at the age of three.
In 1870, James moved 80 miles north to Marshall from Nacogdoches where he had lived, worked and reared five children for more than 30 years. It was the year Texas was readmitted to the Union. Land and banking prospects looked more promising because of Marshall’s proximity to Shreveport’s railroad station. He purchased Rosemont, and his son Frank joined him in 1871, the same year Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, a measure President Ulysses S. Grant requested to address the Ku Klux Klan violence that had grown steadily in the south since the group's formation in 1866.
Frank and his brother Amory, who moved to Marshall in 1872, were instrumental in bringing settlers to Texas. They advertised more than a million Texas acres in 100 counties in newspapers across the country and secured right-of-ways for railroads.
The grounds of Maplecroft serve as backdrop to many weddings during the spring when the azaleas are in full bloom, and the Blake House serves as a rental facility for special events. Docents provide guided tours Tuesday through Sunday.
“From family letters and collections in the house, you can tell what a close family they were for so many generations,” Maxwell said. “They just seemed to love being together, and as a result, we have a house full of furniture and family portraits that got to be a part of the family for such a long time, and now we get to share that story with other people, which is the fun part.”
From the November 2012 issue.