And now you know: J.W. Link, the Mayor who wanted a “Wet City”

Published 6:31 am Saturday, December 2, 2017

By Mike Louviere

The Orange Leader

John Wiley (J.W.) Link was born in Gallatin, Tennessee on December 1, 1866. He studied law at Baylor University and, in 1891, joined the law firm of Holland and Holland in Amarillo, Texas. Also that year, he married Inna Imola Holland, the daughter of one of the firm’s partners. The law firm and their families moved to Orange in 1895. The firm consisted of Judge J.A. Holland, George Holland, and Link.

Link began to diversify and began to buy and sell real estate and to buy timberland for himself and clients such as John Henry Kirby. Kirby established a lumber company in Orange in 1901 and in 1902 sold the mill to Link. Link partnered with Leopold Miller and formed the Miller-Link Lumber Company. He soon gave up his law practice and became a full time lumber man.

In 1904, he organized the Yellow Pine Paper Mill Company. He partnered with W.H. Stark, E.W. Brown, F.H. Farwell, Joe Miller, and George Holland in the mill operation.

Link became mayor of Orange in 1900. His focus as mayor was street improvement. He had all the streets in the city graded and had plans to pave them with shell.

In 1903, an election was held to vote Orange “dry”, and close all the saloons. Link campaigned on the side of the saloon owners. His reason was that he could not do what he wanted to do as mayor, the street improvements, without the revenue from saloon license fees. When the “dry” side won the election and the saloons were forced to close, Link resigned as mayor.

In addition to serving as mayor, Link had been instrumental in bringing the deep water channel to Orange. The channel led to the development of the Port of Orange.

That same year (1903) he moved his family into the mansion he had built at Ninth Street and Green Avenue. The large home was built in the Greek Revival style and was considered one of the most perfect homes ever built. When Link moved to Houston in 1910 the home was sold. It was later purchased by E.W. Brown, Jr. as the home for his mother. After her death, the home was given to the First Presbyterian Church, located next door. The church established the Presbyterian Day School in the home.

In 1910, Link decided to move to Houston to broaden his real estate endeavors. He started to develop the Montrose subdivision and built the first home there as his personal residence. The mansion was an expansive 10,800 square feet and was the largest private home in Texas at the time it was built. In 1916, Link sold the home for $90,000 to T.P. Lee, the partner of Miles Frank Yount in the Yount-Lee Oil Company. The price was the highest paid for a private home in Houston at that time.

The Link-Lee Mansion is located at 3800 Montrose Avenue, the corner of Montrose and Alabama Avenue. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 and became a Recorded Texas Landmark in 2001. It is currently the administrative office building for St. Thomas University.

In 1912, Link became president of Link Oil Corporation. 1921 saw him in the seat of vice president of Kirby Lumber Company, Link became the first chairman of the board of the American General Insurance Company in 1926.

In 1929, he joined the Dr. Pepper parent company and became president of Dr. Pepper.

Link died in Houston on March 18, 1933 and was buried in Forest Park Cemetery.

His biography in the Handbook of Texas has the following description: “Link was a larger than life Texan who spoke with a drawl, dabbled in real estate and law, and called the ladies “darlin’”. He built Montrose, ran cattle, laid claim to large tracts of bayou, and charmed country folks out of their mineral rights.”

“And now you know”