Starr Family Home
East Texas historic site and B&B earns 5 ‘Starrs.’
By Erica Brasseux
The Starr Family Home State Historic Site in Marshall offers visitors a rare glimpse at a rich 150-year history as well as a relaxing reprieve from the hustle and bustle of modern times.
My husband, Eric, and I arrive a little after 10 on Saturday morning, just in time to slide in on the coattails of a tour group of eight ladies from a church in nearby Carthage. A short video in the formal living room commences our introduction, with a historical overview of the Starr family and the three-acre estate, but it’s our tour guide, park ranger Jo Ann Toole, who really brings the 19th-century Maplecroft mansion to life.
Though not the first home on the property, Maplecroft, built in the 1870s by the eldest son, James Franklin Starr, a shipwright, is the primary focus of the park. The home originally consisted of eight rooms, with a separate kitchen and servant’s room connected to the main house by a covered passageway. Through the years the home has been modernized, modified and enlarged to accommodate the changing lifestyles of four generations of successive family members who have occupied it.
Despite the changes, Maplecroft looks much like it did 130 years ago and continues to shelter treasured family heirlooms, collections of china, art, figurines, decorations and furnishings that range in age from the latter part of the 19th century through the 1960s.
“Someone once told me that as a rule of thumb, [clothes] that are antique are almost always small. Apparently that’s true of most of the people that lived a hundred years ago, too,” Toole explains as all the ladies gawk admiringly at the tiny Victorian-style dresses, once worn by Starr’s wife, Clara, displayed on mannequins throughout various rooms. From the child-size dainty dresses to the petite formal dining table and chairs, everything looks miniature juxtaposed against the home’s towering 14-foot ceilings.
The authenticity of the home’s furnishings and décor help capture even more of the prominent family’s rich history. “At one time, the house had 26 bookcases in it, each one with a different letter on it for each letter of the alphabet,” says Toole as she points out a bookcase with a gold letter “G” on the front. “This crack in the glass is actually a bullet hole from when someone got upset with Mr. Starr and took a shot at him.”
As we venture through the courtyard to the back of the property, we pass a building that Starr converted into a private schoolhouse for the instruction of his six daughters.
“Right now we just use the schoolhouse for storage,” explains park superintendent Cathy Marshall. “We’re considering the idea of transforming it into another bed and breakfast cottage one day.”
Currently the site offers one bed and breakfast room, Rosemont Cottage, which is the last stop on the tour and final destination for my husband and I later that evening. Built in the late 1830s, it is the only surviving wing of the original family home that was purchased by Frank Starr’s father, Dr. James Harper Starr, in 1870. Dr. Starr was a prominent official during the Republic and first statehood periods; his son Frank was a leading land developer. According to Toole, it’s said that at one time the Starr family owned one-third of Texas and had land in every county.
“Whether you’re talking about the precision and amazingly solid construction of the home itself, the antiques inside it, or the families who lived here,” says Toole, “there’s so much to be learned about Texas history right here in this house.”
The grounds are deserted on Sunday morning when we wake. We brew a fresh pot of coffee, slip into some rocking chairs on the front porch of our cottage and imagine Dr. and Mrs. Starr doing the same more than a century ago. For an hour on this brisk October morning, life is so quiet, so unhurried, so simple.
For information about the park or bed and breakfast accommodations, call (903) 935-3044 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/starrfamily/>.