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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Link made history in Orange, Houston

 

Last updated 3/12/2024 at 10:21pm

J.W. Link and his wife, Ihna Imola Holland Link, are photographed together in the early 1900s. The couple built a grand mansion in 1903 on Green Avenue at Ninth Street in downtown Orange. Link also served as mayor here and moved to Houston in 1910, where he developed the Montrose community.

In the Gilded Age, Green Avenue in Orange was lined with mansions and grand houses. The biggest and most elaborate of the mansions was built by J.W. Link, a lawyer who owned a lumber mill.

Link also served as mayor of Orange, but a few years later, moved to Houston, where he became a major land developer and founded the Montrose subdivision. His mansion in Houston, similar to his one in Orange, still stands today and serves as administrative offices for St. Thomas University on Montrose Avenue. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Who knows what would have happened if he had stayed in Orange? And did the election in 1903 when voters here made the decision to close the saloons have anything to do with his leaving? We may never know.

According to the book "Orange: Gateway to Texas" by Dr. Howard Williams, Link was elected mayor in 1900. He began a program to grade and pave the streets. In those days, the "paving" meant covering with clam shell.

Paved streets would have been a major improvement project for Orange with its dirt-clay streets that became muddy in the frequent rains.

But in 1903, voters in Orange County decided to make the county dry, which meant the saloons in downtown Orange would have to close down. Link said he couldn't make the improvements he envisioned for the city without the liquor tax income from the saloons and resigned.

The Texas State Historical Association's online biography of Link says he was born in 1866 near Gallatin, Texas. He studied law at Baylor and was admitted to the state bar in 1888 at the age of 22. In 1891 he became a member of the Amarillo law firm Holland and Holland. That same year he married a partner's daughter, Ihna Imola Holland.

The online biography reports the Link family moved to Orange in 1895, but Dr. Williams' history of Orange says the year was 1896. Williams' local history book 'Gateway to Texas' says Link came to Orange to practice law with Judge J.A. Holland and George Holland.

Link bought a lumber mill here in 1902 in partnership with his friend Leopold Miller. They formed the Miller-Link Lumber Company. "Gateway to Texas" says Link joined with other local lumbermen, W.H. Stark, Dr. E.W. Brown, and F.H. Farwell to establish the Yellow Pine Paper Mill, which stayed open nearly a century. The mill used scaps from the lumber industry to make into paper products.

In 1903, Link and his wife built the mansion on Green Avenue. The Three-story house used the Greek revival style and had tall Corinthian columns. The grand exterior stairs leading to the entrance were built in marble.

A newspaper story in 1958 published when the house was being demolished reported it had cut-glass windows in every room. Each bedroom had a fireplace and a bathroom, complete with rare-for-those-days sinks and bathtubs of pastel porcelain. A domed conservatory housed tropical plants including soaring palm trees.

Link planted palms in front of the house, too. Those palms are almost shrub-like in old photographs but the two palms grew tall with long trunks. They stayed long after the house was demolished and a windstorm blew them down in the early 1990s.

When the Links moved to Houston in 1910, Dr. Edgar Brown and his wife, Carrie Lutcher Brown, bought the mansion for their daughter, Fannye Brown Moore. Mrs. Brown moved into it the mansion in 1917 after the doctor's death. Fannye Moore died in 1918 at the age of 27 during Great Influenza pandemic, leaving behind a young daughter.

Carrie Lutcher Brown lived at the mansion there until her death in 1941, according to Dr. Williams' book. However, the Brown family history includes her moving to Europe and living in Paris for a while until the outbreak of World War II.

First Presbyterian Church was built next to the mansion and was under construction when the Links moved to Houston.

After Carrie Lutcher Brown's death, the Brown family donated the house and property to the church. For more than a decade, the mansion was used for Sunday school classes and for Presbyterian Day School. It was demolished because of termites and the upkeep was too expensive for the church.

A recent history report by the City of Houston's Planning and Development Office describes Link as "one of Houston's most prominent businessmen." The history said Link named Montrose Boulevard after the historic town in Scotland as written by Sir Walter Scott.

While in Houston, Link didn't spend all his time working and developing the city's first restricted subdivision. He also helped start the No-Tsu-Oh Carnival in 1912, described as Houston's answer to Mardi Gras.

He had many other business accomplishments. Link had many more business accomplishments. According to the Texas Historical Commission online biography, he became president of Link Oil Co. and the general manager of the Kirby Lumber Co. in 1912. In 1926 he was the first chairman of the board for the American General Insurance Co. Then in 1929 he became the president of the parent company of Dr Pepper. Link died on March 18, 1933, at the age of 66, leaving his wife and five children as survivors.

 

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