FEATURE: Frances Ann Lutcher The Orchid Lady
The name of Frances Ann Lutcher still lives in Orange decades after her death. Her name, though, is usually associated with buildings and institutions.
On Monday, people will be able to learn about the life and personality of the benefactress of left a legacy of art, culture and medicine to the community.
“The Orchid Lady” is a free presentation sponsored by the W.H. Stark House and the Stark Foundation. The free event will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Frances Ann Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts.
After the presentation, a reception with refreshments will be at the W.H. Stark Carriage House across from the theater’s parking lot.
The Stark Foundation, founded by one of Mrs. Lutcher’s grandsons, the late H.J. Lutcher Stark, has hired Beaumont historians Ellen Rienstra and Jo Ann Stiles to research the history of the family that is closely tied to Orange and its development. The two historians will give the presentation and include recently-discovered research.
“This is going to be an exciting evening as the history and personality of Frances Ann Lutcher is revealed through an in-depth discussion and collection of images never seen before by the public,” said Patsy Herrington, director of the W.H. Stark House. “For anyone interested in the history of Orange, this is an event you don’t want to miss.”
Frances Ann Lutcher was born in Pennsylvania on Oct. 17, 1841, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. She married Henry Jacob Lutcher in Pennsylvania on Jan. 23, 1858, when she was 16 years old.
Mr. Lutcher had invested in timber and sawmills in Pennsylvania. He went to the South for more opportunities in the timber business and chose Orange to establish his business. The small town was surrounded by virgin forests of cypress and pine, plus it was on a river with access to the Gulf of Mexico. Lumber milled in Orange could be shipped around the world.
The Lutchers moved to Orange in 1878 from Williamsport, Pa., to establish the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Co. Their daughters Miriam and Carrie came moved with them and within a few years, married.
Miriam married W.H. Stark and Miriam married Dr. E.W. Brown. The Stark and Brown interests continue today to influence Orange.
The Lutchers had a grand Victorian mansion on the south bend of the Sabine River on property that is now part of the Port of Orange. Much of the current port land was part of the huge lumber yard and the port’s office building was once the headquarters of the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Co.
Her grand house had conservatories and greenhouses where she loved to collect and grow orchids.
The collection featured more than 200 varieties. Herrington said Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge, and Edith Bolling Gant Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, were among the recipients of Mrs. Lutcher’s orchids and lilies.
However, she didn’t get the nickname of “The Orchid Lady” from the famous or rich. Mrs. Lutcher, who by that time was in her 70s, would hand out her beautiful orchids to soldiers passing through Orange on trains to travel to the battlefields of Europe to fight during World War I.
In addition to loving natural beauty, Mrs. Lutcher was a fan and patron of the arts. She built a grand opera house in the late 1800s where local talent along with traveling professionals performed. The opera house was on Division Street where Farmer’s Mercantile is. It burned a century ago.
Mrs. Lutcher was a patron of the arts and loved traveling with her daughters. In 1893, they visited the World’s Fair in Chicago and Mrs. Lutcher bought some prize-winning stained glass windows by the Lamb Studios in New York.
Those windows were the inspiration for what would become First Presbyterian Church on Green Avenue. Mrs. Lutcher hired the Lamb Studios to design and create the interior of the grand, pink granite building that is Orange’s most celebrated building. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The stories are that Mrs. Lutcher paid for the entire construction and design, including adding air conditioning to make it one of the first public air conditioned buildings in the country. She even built an electrical generating plant behind the church and hired an engineer to make sure the air conditioning operating.
The church was dedicated in 1912 and is still used by the congregation today.
Then in 1921, Mrs. Lutcher built one of the most modern hospitals in the world for the time. The hospital was named in her honor, Frances Ann Lutcher Hospital.
The four-story brick hospital was on a block north of Green Avenue between Second and Third streets and was elaborately landscaped. Next door to it was a large residence for nurses and nursing students. Neither the house nor the hospital still stand, but the oak trees planted around the block still shade the streets. A nursing home is where the hospital once was.
Mrs. Lutcher died on Oct. 21, 1924, a few days after her 83rd birthday. She was in New York on vacation. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Orange.