Link Avenue runs east to west across Orange from Eighth Street to Park Avenue. The two-lane street, which is commercial at 16th Street, has no resemblance to the famous Montrose Boulevard in Houston. Yet the two intersect in history. Link Avenue in Orange is named after John Wiley Link, a mayor, lawyer and lumberman at the turn of the 20th Century. John Wiley Link named Montrose in 1910 after he moved to Houston to establish that city's first large-scale restricted subdivision.
Link built expansive, grand mansions in both cities. The one in Orange was at the corner of Green Avenue and Ninth Street next to First Presbyterian Church. The one in Houston (left) still stands at 3800 Montrose and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is known as the Link-Lee Mansion and serves as the administration building for the University of St. Thomas.
And who knows what Link might have done in Orange if the local voters hadn’t closed the saloons. He resigned as mayor all in 1903 after voters approved a local prohibition against alcohol. Dr. Howard Williams’ history book about Orange, ‘Gateway to Texas,’ says Link became mayor in 1900 and had all the streets graded and paved in shell. That was a major improvement from the dirt streets that became muddy during rains. However Link said he could not successfully operate the town without the tax income from the saloons, the book reports.
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.
The United States and Orange were immersed in what is known as ‘The Gilded Age’ when Link moved to Orange. The fortunes in Orange were made through the timber industry. In 1902, Link bought a lumber mill and formed the Miller-Link Lumber Company with his friend Leopold Miller. Dr. Williams’ book also says Link joined with other prominent local lumbermen, including W.H. Stark, F.H. Farwell and Dr. E.W. Brown, to form the Yellow Pine Paper Mill in 1904.
Link’s fortune led him to build the largest, most elaborate mansion on Green Avenue in 1903, a time when the street was lined in mansions and spacious houses. The three-story Link home was in the Greek Revival style and had two-story tall Corinthian columns and exterior marble stairs. A 1958 Orange Leader story published when the house was being demolished said it had cut glass windows in every room. Each bedroom had a fireplace and a bathroom. The bathrooms had pastel fixtures, a rarity in those days. 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 and thin, even after the house was demolished. A windstorm blew one over in the early 1990s and the other was cut when First Presbyterian Church built the Gillespie Building on the site in the mid-1990s. Dr. Edgar Brown and his wife, Carrie Lutcher Brown bought the mansion for their daughter after the Links moved. Mrs. Brown moved into it in 1917 after the doctor’s death. She lived there until her death in 1941, according to Dr. Williams’ book. 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.
The Links moved to Houston in 1910. John Wiley Link is still referred to as “one of Houston’s most prominent businessmen,” as reported in a history report by the City of Houston’s Planning and Development Office. Link named the boulevard after the historic town in Scotland as recorded by Sir Walter Scott. The mansion he built on Montrose has a number of similarities with the house he had in Orange.
Link had many more business accomplishments. Tshaonline.com reports 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.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-