In the far reaches of East Texas where the Sabine River flows, there is an oasis of culture, nature, and food. It’s a place where swampy lowlands meet towering pines, locally famous cuisine meets world-famous art, and the sour flavors of life disappear into something much sweeter. It’s a place called Orange.
9:00 a.m. To learn the history of Orange and see the town’s most beautiful home, I headed to The W.H. Stark House. Built in 1894 for Miriam and William Henry (W.H.) Stark, this 14,000-square-foot home (a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark) showcases the historical objects and fas-cinating collections brought to Southeast Texas by the Stark family. During his lifetime, Mr. Stark served as president of the largest sawmill company in the state and used his home to display the bounty of the forest through elaborate woodwork in every room. It was easy to imagine well-dressed gents and ladies parading through the library and music room, then up the grand staircase.
It’s too bad I left my top hat at home.
10:30 a.m. The Starks’ son, H.J. Lutcher Stark, continued his parents’ tradition of collecting fine art and historical artifacts. This once-private treasure trove is now on display at the Stark Museum of Art. Stepping inside, I was stunned to see pieces from Western artists like Remington and Russell next to the works of O’Keeffe and Moran, and even the personal drawings of artist and naturalist John James Audubon. It was truly a collection worthy of the Big Apple right here in small Orange.
12:00 p.m. To indulge in an edible history of sorts, I headed to the Old Orange Cafe. This renovated dairy building bustled with lunchtime patrons hungry for home-style cooking with a chef-inspired flair. I placed my order and passed the time perusing the walls of historic photos. In no time, my “shrimp burger” arrived, delicious with fried shrimp, spicy toppings, and a jalapeño-cheese bun.
1:00 p.m. Ready to get outside, I drove to Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. H.J. Lutcher Stark originally developed the lush gardens in 1946 and later opened them to share his love of nature with the world. The exquisite flower gardens exploded with every color of the rainbow, but topping even that was a peek through the bird blind at Ruby Lake, where hundreds of nesting egrets perched in the trees. To see more of this fascinating ecosystem, I took The Outpost tour, navigating up Adams Bayou to a 1,200-year-old Champion Pond Cypress tree dubbed the “Survivor Tree” because it has withstood countless hurricanes over hundreds of years.
4:00 p.m. With some time before dinner, I followed Interstate 10 toward the Texas-Louisiana border. The allure of the Pelican State almost turned my trip into a multi-state adventure. But suddenly, the giant “Welcome to Texas” sign caught my eye as a too-good-to-pass-up photo opp, and I stayed Texas-side. I then worked up an appetite cruising Orange’s blocks of historic homes and past architectural wonders like the First Presbyterian Church.
6:00 p.m. I drove to Robert’s Meat Market and Steak House for dinner. One side of the establishment is a classic meat market for the do-it-yourself chef with the best beef, sausage, and gator meat in town. The other side is a full-service steakhouse for those who like their meals cooked and ready to devour. Unprepared to do my own bayou-fresh cooking, I hit the steakhouse and started with a whopping plate of Robert’s boudain balls quickly followed by a sizzling sirloin. It made the perfect meal to cap off the day with equal parts Cajun flavor and Texas culture.
A day trip to Orange is as varied and distinctive as Texas itself, with something for foodies, nature-lovers, and history buffs alike. But no matter what brings you to this gateway city, you’re sure to find a getaway that’s as sweet as its namesake fruit. So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.