Bits of History - Corsicana, Texas

We happened by this striking building one afternoon as the sun was going down.  The light shining through the upper windows caught my eye, so I snapped away.  Later I learned about the history of the Beth El Temple.

 Temple Beth-El is an historic Moorish Revival synagogue located at 208 South 15th Street in Corsicana, Texas. It became a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark in 1981.
On February 3, 1987, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The synagogue was built by a Reform Jewish congregation in 1898-1900. It is a wood frame building, with clapboard siding, keyhole windows in the front doors, and a pair of octagonal towers topped by onion domes.
The Jewish community of Corsicana, established in 1871, dwindled in the late twentieth century, spurring the Navarro County Historical Society to take responsibility for the synagogue which, because of its unusual architecture, has been restored and is now in use as a community center. [source]

During our walk downtown we discovered this park nestled between 2 buildings.  The plaque told it was a "Pocket Park".  I think this is a fascinating idea!

The Texas Electric Interurban Railway operated up to 12 daily round trips between Dallas and Corsicana from 1913 to 1941. Corsicana served as the terminus for this branch of the line with the turnaround located at this intersection.  [more information]
Interurban Railcar No. 305

The sign reads: The original Wolf Brand Chili was first sold on this street corner in 1895 in the front of
what was then the Blue Front Saloon.

Here's how the story goes, according to Historic Walking Tour booklet from Corsicana Visitor Center:
One clear, sunny day in the fall of 1895, sixteen year-old Lyman T. Davis appeared in Corsicana driving a rickety old wagon. In the bed of the wagon there was a small barrel of crackers and a basket full of earthenware bowls.  There was also a long, flat pan-like device that had been built by a blacksmith.  The pan was filled with glowing charcoal embers and a large cast iron pot sat on top of the embers.

Davis reined the team to a halt in front of the Blue Front Saloon on Beaton Street and hopped off the wagon.  He opened the cracker barrel, spread some bowls on the back of the wagon and took the lid off the pot full of simmering, bubbling, home-made chili. Davis stirred the chili a few times with a ladle, then announced to one and all "Come and get it." Chili was five cents a bowl, including all the crackers a customer could eat.  The Blue Front Saloon supplied the beverages and a booming downtown business was born.

Davis later opened his own meat market on Beaton Street, but continued to cook chili daily and serve it from the back of the market.  People loved the spicy meaty produce Lyman created and often asked to take some home. Davis would sell them a "chili brick". The chili business was so successful, Davis decided to begin canning his product in the early 1920's

Needing a label for the new canning operation, a local photographer suggested using an image of Mr. Davis' pet wolf, "Kaiser Bill", and calling the product "Wolf Brand Chili".  Kaiser Bill, walking with Davis around town or riding in his special cage on the Wolf Brand Chili Can cars, became a common sight.

The highly successful Wolf Brand Chili continued to be produced in Corsicana until the 1980's when Quaker Oats moved production to Dallas. One of the most well-known tag lines in marketing history "Neighbor, How Long Has It Been?" was created for the company by the Crooks Company of Dallas in 1960.  The radio line was delivered by E.L. "Pop" Myers, a former announcer for the Lightcrust Doughboys and hosts of the "Early Bird" radio program in Fort Worth.  The rest is history, as they say.

Corsicana continues to claim its heritage as the birthplace of Wolf Brand Chili celebrating each year with a Chili Championship Cook-of during Derrick Days in April.

Click [here] to see the scrapbook of Mr. Davis, Kaiser Bill, and the can cars.


I hope you have enjoyed visiting Corsicana as much as we did.  
I wonder where we'll end up next?


Kristin said...

Wolf brand chili! Looks like a good time. :)

Linda Jacobs said...

So interesting! I've never heard if that brand of chili. Cool story about his pet wolf. And, your photos are lovely, especially that one of the Temple with the sun in the tower windows!

Linda Kaiser said...

KAISER Bill, huh? lol The ONLY brand of canned chili that I'll eat! An interesting story!


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