Louisiana, MO

The historic 19th-century Goodman-Stark House is linked to the successful Stark Bros. Nursery & Orchard Co. story

CJ Coombs

Goodman-Stark House.Jim Roberts, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Standing prominent on its limestone foundation is the Goodman–Stark House (aka the Stark–Unsell House) located in Louisiana, Missouri. This unique historic house was built around 1894 and it’s so full of history.

This house consists of 2.5 stories and the architectural style is Queen Anne. It has been described as having a steeply pitched hipped and gabled roof. The masonry chimneys stand tall. It’s an interesting structure. In 1994, this house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The brick house was built on a terraced site on the bluffs of the Mississippi River. It was designed by the architectural firm, Franklin, Wheeler, and Branson from St. Louis and retains its original exterior appearance.

The foundation is about two feet thick. The walls on the outside are made of dark red hard-pressed brick that was brought up the Mississippi River from Quincy, Illinois. The ceiling height on the first and second floors is over 10 feet.

Behind the main foyer, the house has a rear staircase that provided access for servants to the three floors in the house. In the 1930s, the interior of the third floor (attic) was finished and used as a playroom. The first floor contains a parlor, a sitting room, a dining room, and a kitchen. Access to the basement is from the kitchen. The second floor contains four bedrooms and two bathrooms. There are oak hardwood floors throughout the house and four fireplaces.

The Goodman-Stark house is representative of what wealth brought to a small town during the 19th century. The house is also important because of the relationship with Clarence McDowell Stark who was a co-founder and first president of Stark Bros. Nurseries and Orchards Co.

During 1899 and 1914, Stark's company became successful at the national level. He's credited for discovering the Red Delicious apple variety.

The Goodman-Stark House was originally commissioned by the chief cashier at the Bank of Louisiana, Richard H.Goodman. In 1899, Stark purchased the home from Goodman's ex-wife after the Goodmans divorced. The original Stark Bros. headquarters and offices, and the adjacent William Stark house, were razed in the 1960s. The Goodman-Stark House is the only surviving structure with a historical association with Clarence Stark. He lived there for over seven decades.

Stark is also credited with helping to promote the development of orchard farming in the Western United States. The Red Delicious apple was one of the first apple trees introduced in Washington and Oregon.

Stark's relationship with Luther Burbank

Luther Burbank (b. Mar. 7, 1849, d. Apr 11, 1926) was an American botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer in agricultural science. In his long career, he developed hundreds of strains and varieties of plants that included fruits, vegetables, grains, grasses, and flowers.

In 1893, his attention was on the variety of the Delicious apple discovered by the Stark Bros. Nurseries & Orchards Co. Burbank allegedly stated the apple was "the finest-flavored apple in all the world." It was also the same year that the Starks began their relationship with Burbank.

Stark was aware of Burbank’s work and traveled to California to see him including seeing the results of his experiments. He was surprised Burbank was operating a small seed and nursery business in an effort to finance his experiments plus support himself. Stark offered advice and some financial backing to Burbank to demonstrate his faith in his work.

Burbank was so well known as a horticulturist that he appeared on the U.S. postage stamp in 1940. He credited the Stark family for helping to make his work become profitable.

After his death, rights to his plant material were sold to Stark Brothers’ Nursery, which sold the vegetables and seed rights to Burpee Seed Company in 1931, where Burbank’s creations continued to be promoted to the public. (Source.)

Stark family

The operation of orchards and a nursery business began with Judge James Hart Stark, Sr. who was an early Pike County settler. His five orchards and business were left to his son, William Watts Stark, who experienced setbacks including being down to only one orchard by the time he died. The business was a struggle for him. His sons, Clarence, Edgar, and William P. took over in trying to bring the business back to life.

Stark apple trees were nationally recognized through the distribution of Clarence Stark's catalogs and advertising. Stark Bros. was also a large employer in Pike County. Edgar assumed most of the business's financial and production operations, and William, who was the office manager left the company later. Clarence continued to have good marketing skills and with the railroad basically replacing river trade, the Start Bros. products could be shipped to other major cities.

During his last decade of life, Clarence suffered from some mental health issues so his brother, Edgar, took over being president of the company in 1905. As you can imagine, there was a different view on mental illness back then. Clarence still appeared in the office and orchards until he died in 1914 at age 58-59. He was one of two significant stockholders of the company. His wife, Lilly Stark, was the legal guardian of his estate in 1911. He had two sons, Lloyd and Paul, and a daughter, Willella.

Clarence is buried at Riverview Cemetary in Louisiana, Missouri overlooking the Mississippi River. His son, Paul C. Stark, was involved with the company's business serving as the vice president. Paul is also attributed to being the founder of the Golden Delicious apple variety. His second son, Lloyd C. Stark, went on to be the Governor of Missouri from 1937 to 1941. Clarence's daughter, Willella Stark Unsell, lived in the house until 1975. She died on October 3, 1981, at age 92.

Today, the Stark Bros. business is still going strong! The brief video below gives you a glimpse into its beginning. You can ponder the family history when gazing at the historical home, or every time you bite into a Red Delicious or Golden Delicious apple.

Thanks for reading! Keeping history alive.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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