A Holiday back in time
You won’t find any shiny pink or orange trees at the Parker House Museum in Odessa this holiday season.
You will find a glimpse into Odessa’s past and that includes a come and go open house scheduled 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 14
The house, located at 1118 Maple Ave., shows how some of the earliest pioneers of West Texas lived in Odessa. The museum and the open house feature free admission.
The Parker House Museum has a storied history in Odessa. In 1907, James Early “Jim” Parker Jr. acquired two sections of land divided by the Andrews and Ector County lines. In 1908 he married Bessie Ola Lindley and the couple had six children: Jackson, Ray, James, Walter, Alvin, Bessie Lou and Mollie.
The Parker family expanded their holdings to more than 100 sections on four ranches where they raised Hereford cattle, including registered pure-line breeding bulls. In 1935, they came to Ector County and purchased their fourth ranch two miles east of Odessa. They named it Town Ranch. The ranch house is now surrounded by the growing city and stands at 13th and Maple Streets.
In 1996 it was refurbished to resemble — as closely as possible — the original structure. Included are some original home furnishings, Bessie Ola Parker’s quilts and paintings and even Jim Parker’s last pair of boots, which the family had bronzed after his death.
The Parker House is a mansard style with an exterior composed of rubble rock and brick over a wooden frame. The rubble rock chimney has double Elizabethan-style chimney pipes that extend from the top. The house has two stories, with stairs visible from the front door. There are four bedrooms and a bath upstairs, and a dining room, formal parlor, informal parlor, bedroom, kitchen, office and downstairs bath.
The kitchen’s most unique feature is the drop-down ironing board. Until the advent of 120-volt power, ironing was done with heavy flat irons and “sad” irons heated on the gas stove that stood to the left of the sink. The kitchen table and chairs belonged to the Parkers. The wooden cabinets beside and below the metal sink, which was installed in the ’50s, are also original.
The buffet and dining room set are “stand ins” for the original furniture, but the mirror hanging on the east wall is not. That mirror was given to Bessie Ola and Jim Parker by daughter Bessie Lou Doelling, her husband Gus Doelling, son Ray Parker and his wife Imogene Parker. After Bessie Ola Parker’s death in 1952, the children halved the mirror. Bessie Lou Doelling framed it and donated it to the museum.
A room in front of the dining room came to be known as Grandma’s Folly. Bessie Ola had the addition installed in the ’60s but her children and grandchildren never knew exactly why. The roof was flat and always leaked. If Grandma’s Folly were for Bessie Ola’s use, it was probably intended as a sewing room and is depicted as such.
The formal parlor contains Bessie Ola Parker’s 24-key Carmen accordion and original lamps. Here, she set up her quilt frame on the dining room chairs and made the family’s quilts. The piano is similar to the Ludwig upright that she brought to West Texas after marrying Jim Parker. She needlepointed the cover for the spindle-legged stool.
Interestingly, the Parker family apparently did not want an indoor fireplace. Jim Parker had the fireplace turned into a bookcase. The only way to tell the shelves weren’t always there is to go outside and look up.
In 1970, after Bessie Ola Parker donated the old Town Ranch to local chapters of various college sororities to use as a meeting place, further renovations were made to the house, which had sat vacant through the 1960s. The upstairs bath was converted to a storage area and now serves as the museum’s office.
Jim Parker’s office remains much as it once was. The little brown jug he played bluegrass style is on display, as is his name plate and his bronzed boots. The upstairs bedrooms are used to display exhibits. One bedroom contains a glass case that displays Bessie Ola Parker’s wedding gown, overjacket and purse, and Jim Parker’s Free Mason uniform and sword.
The Parker House Museum got a boost several years ago when country star and Odessa legend Larry Gatlin donated a gallery of old belongings collected during his career. Photos, guitars, letters and other mementos of his early years filled the rooms.
Gatlin said he took a lot of these items out of storage and donated them to the Parker House, where Executive Director Richard Cummings, a friend of Gatlin’s, arranged them in four of the rooms upstairs. Gatlin said he hoped to pay homage to his hometown, where his musical career began.
“It absolutely was not to say ‘Hey Odessa, look at me!’ “Gatlin said at the time of the exhibit. “It’s more in the perspective of, ‘We’re Odessans; this is where we came from.’ “
Larry Gatlin had a successful solo career in country music during the 1970s, before achieving greater fame after teaming up with brothers Rudy and Steve to form the Gatlin Brothers. The band continued performing through the ’80s before retiring in 1992.