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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Historic houses on display for Toy Coffee


Last updated 12/5/2023 at 8:33pm

Vineen Giordano and Cheryl Sharpton-Stalnaker, chairs of the Service League of Orange Toy Coffee, are in front of the home of Beth and Kenneth Wheeler in the Old Orange Historic District. The Wheeler home on Pine Avenue. The Toy Coffee on Thursday collects new toys and money for the local Salvation Army.

Two Victorian era buildings, a home and a tiny school, will be open for tours Thursday, December 7,during the 57th Annual Toy Coffee sponsored by the Service League of Orange. Cheryl Sharpton-Stalnaker is chair of the event with Vineen Giordano as co-chair.

Beth and Kenneth Wheeler restored both buildings in the Old Orange Historic District and have the decorated for Christmas for the tours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is new, unwrapped toy or money donation for the Salvation Army of Orange County to help families in need during the holidays.

The Service League of Orange provides a number of charitable, health, and education services to Orange County. The Toy Coffee with its open house has become a local tradition.

The Wheeler's main residence is at 1008 Pine Avenue and was recently approved to receive at Texas Historical Marker. The front porch was featured in 2012 on the cover of This Old House magazine.

The house was built in 1889 for Wolf Bluestein and sold in 1907 to Ben and Martha Stephens. The Stephens family lived there for 75 years. Judge Jerry Pennington did the research on the house and wrote the marker application.

The Wheelers took years restoring and remodeling the house, with work disrupted by storms. Two giant nutcrackers are standing at the front entrance and the house is full of an eclectic display of Christmas decorations.

The yellow house is a block where century-old live oak trees form a tunnel for the street.

The other place is known as "Miss Laura's School" and was awarded a Texas Historical Marker in 1986 after one restoration. It later became vacant for 20 years and fell into decay. The Wheelers, who walk in the neighborhood, admired the tiny building and tracked down the owner to buy it.

The building started as a stable to the Chandler family, which lived on Pine Avenue at Seventh Street in the 19th Century. In 1896, they added an upstairs to the stable so their daughter, Laura, could have a small classroom to teach. Eventually, the stable was converted to a dwelling with the downstairs having a living area and kitchen. The upstairs classroom became a balcony.

Edna Travis, who was married to dentist Dr. Robert Travis, bought the tiny building in the 1980s. The couple lived in a house on the same block and his dentist office was by the tiny house. They restored it. After their deaths, the house was sold was long vacant.

Beth Wheeler said they have furnished the house with antiques and are holiday decorating with a nod to the school house. She said during their recent remodeling, they removed old, thin sheetrock that had been wallpapered over during the 1980s renovation.

Apparently, the original school house had an outside stairways to get there. The upstairs front door to a small balcony was probably added after the classroom. They also found an area of shiplap that had been painted black to serve as a chalkboard.

She said they saved those original black boards and have framed them in the room like an old-fashioned school room.

Tours at the Pine Avenue home will exit into the patio area, where refreshments will be served. Several schools in the county have toy drives with students delivering them to the Toy Coffee. This year, the Service League will provide the students with pizza set up outside the little school house.


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