Special: Celebrating Corsicana’s Milestone Anniversaries – Part 2

Anniversaries celebrate personality, technology of Corsicana

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette, Special Thanks to Dana Stubbs

Corsicana has enjoyed a long history with a continual legacy of business, organizational, and technological institutions having defined this city. 2021 has been a remarkable year as many of these anniversaries span well past a century, some have just hit that 100 year mark, and others have been around long enough to simply be recognized for their longevity.

Part 2 of this piece celebrates the milestones who have found their century mark in 2021, as well as some of the local spots and cultural influences that define the personality of the city. Part 1 celebrates the businesses and organizations having surpassed over a century in the community.

The Navarro County Gazette invites you to enjoy these milestones, and if any local mainstay is celebrating their own major anniversary this year, we invite you to share your story by e-mailing us at news@navarrocountygazette.com.

100 Years – The Palace Theatre – February 7, 1921

Dedicated to the advancement of art, the vaudeville house initially featured numerous live acts before changing to a movie house in the 1930s, its first film being Cecil B. DeMille’s Something to Think About.

During the 1980s, the theater also had a brief stint as an adult movie theater before closing its doors for over a decade. By the 1990s, the Palace was in need of renovations and at risk of being demolished before being saved and restored to its former glory by the community.

Reopening its doors in 2002, the Palace’s first show was a musical production of George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess. The theatre continues to serve downtown Corsicana as a live entertainment venue for all forms of performance art, hosting such acts such as Clint Black, Vicki Lawrence, Ronnie Milsap, and the Temptations.

Of the original five vaudeville houses that once dotted Corsicana’s landscape, the Palace is the only one still remaining in the city of Corsicana.

Leah Dill Blackard, Executive Director of the Palace Theatre shares this anniversary message:“We’re so excited to be celebrating the 100th birthday of our beloved Palace Theatre! The impact the Palace has made over the last 100 years to our community and our quality of life is immeasurable. We look forward to serving the people of Navarro County with laughs, entertainment, and pure joy for another 100 years.

We hope you’ll join us on November 4th where we’ll celebrate the Palace in the grand style it deserves. It will be a night you won’t want to miss!”

100 Years – Corsicana Rotary Club – May 1, 1921

In March 1921, seven men met at a luncheon in the Beaton Café for the purpose of organizing a local Rotary club. On April 21, 1921, the Corsicana Rotary Club held its first meeting at the Beaton Café.

On April 28, 1921, a group of twenty-five prominent gentlemen notable in the Corsicana’s social and business circles met at the YMCA to work on the preliminary stages of organizing a Rotary Club in Corsicana. C. C. Roberts, the first president of Corsicana Rotary Club, spoke to those in attendance, highlighting the benefits of the organization:

  • Making the acquaintance of men you ought to know.
  • Genuine, wholesome good-fellowship.
  • Developing true and helpful friends.
  • Enlightenment as to other men’s work, problems, and successes.
  • Education in methods that increase efficiency.
  • Stimulation of your desire to be of service to your fellowmen and society in general.

The Corsicana Rotary Club was awarded its Charter on May 1, 1921, with the club’s name appearing as: “Corsicana Rotary Club, No. 937.” 

The charter was officially received on September 21, 1921. At the time, Texas was comprised of only one district, so there was some delay before the District Governor could make it to the club.

The inaugural officers of the Corsicana Rotary Club were:

  • C.C. Roberts – President
  • W.N. Johnson – Vice president
  • Jim B. Robinson – Secretary.
  • Ben Blackmon – Treasurer
  • H. Gentry – Sergeant at Arms

Early activities of the club included a Christmas party for the children of the State Orphans Home, purchasing equipment for the local schools to test the hearing of the students, and gathering scrap metal and other useful items during the war.

For Corsicana Rotary Club’s 100th anniversary celebration, District Governor Rick Stacy presented President Lindsay King with a certificate commemorating a century of community service. Jody LeMarr-Cabano displayed the club’s reframed original charter, and Evie Eeds presented speakers for each decade who spoke about Corsicana Rotary Club in the news. 

80 Years – Old Mexican Inn – 1941

Julius Sr. and Caroline Flores opened the Old Mexican Inn restaurant at the Southern Hotel, moving to several locations throughout Corsicana in an effort to meet growing customer demand. In 1965, Old Mexican Inn moved to its 2407 W. Seventh Avenue location.

In 1986, construction began to expand the restaurant and include the addition of a new bar space, changing the dining establishment’s name to the Old Mexican Inn Restaurant & Cantina. Known for its sizzling fajitas and family secret “Orange Dip,” the Mexican restaurant remains a local favorite in the community and for faraway visitors.

The Navarro County Gazette featured the Flores family in a retrospective in October of 2020, but since that time, the Flores family is already planning to celebrate this year with its patrons.

Danica Woolley of the Flores family and manager of Old Mexican Inn shares this anniversary message: “Celebrating 80 years, we still use the original recipes my grandparents made up in the early 40s, including the Orange Dip. And people still love and crave them! We have a wonderful group of hard-working employees, some who have worked here for over 20 years, and we’re grateful to each and everyone of them. We appreciate our customers & community who have been so supportive, and we’re glad to be open at 100 percent with no restrictions. It’s great to see normal again!”

75 Years – Navarro College – September 16, 1946

The first classes of Navarro Junior College began in 1946 had an initial enrollment of 204. In 1951, the college moved to its present location at 3200 West 7th Avenue. In 1974, the college dropped “Junior” from its name, and added occupational education programs.

Between the years 1974 to 1985, student enrollment increased to nearly 3,000. Additional land (through purchase and donation) was added, and major buildings were built: Fine Arts, Gymnasium-Physical Education, Health Occupations, and six new residential facilities. Major renovations seen during the time period included included the Albritton Academic-Administration Building, the Leighton B. Dawson Auditorium, and Waller Student Union Building.

At 6:30 a.m., November 1, 1984 the NCTV television station (Channel 29) began broadcasting educational and public service programming to Corsicana and the surrounding communities.

In the spring of 1997, the Cook Educational Center opened on the college campus, featuring a large event center and a planetarium. In 2003, the Pearce Collections Museum, highlighting Civil War artifacts and Western art, was added to the center.

The college has been home to a variety of instructors, coaches, and staff members who made their impact on the community, including (but not limited to): Monica Aldama, Jim Chapman, McAfee Daniel, Randall “Whoa” Dill, Bob McElroy, Don Mershawn, Richard Miller, Roark Montgomery, Dan Nesmith, Shellie O’Neal, Lewis Orr, Amy Patterson, Jeremy Pereira, Mike Prim, Laurie Robertstad, Tommy Stringer, David and Linda Timmerman, and Tom and Shanda Vance.

Today, the campus has expanded to locations in Mexia, Midlothian, and Waxahachie. In 2020, the college’s Cheer Team starred as the subject of a Netflix docuseries, and launched the opening of a new state-of-the-art eSports facility. The main campus has since expanded to 103 acres with dozens of buildings across its campus.

Dr. Kevin G. Fegan, Navarro College District President, offers this celebratory message: “Navarro College is excited to celebrate our 75 years of empowering individuals and changing lives by providing innovative career pathways and student-centered learning opportunities that have resulted in decades of student success in communities worldwide. We look forward to this year of looking back and moving forward.”

75 Years – Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home – 1946

Griffin Funeral Home was originally established by W.E. and Reppie Griffin in 1946, and gained a dedicated reputation as an honest and caring funeral home. 

The funeral home’s first location was at the corner of W. Fifth Avenue and North 14th Street in Corsicana. By 1981, Griffin Funeral Home expanded their business to Blooming Grove, and in 1985, Bill and Linda Roughton built the present-day location of Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home in Corsicana at 1530 N. 45th Street. 

A family business, W.E. taught his craft to his grandson William (Bill) Griffin Roughton from an early age, where the elder Griffin worked at the home every day until his passing in 1987. Since then, Bill and his wife Linda carried on the traditions of providing comfort and dignified funeral services.

From the time he was old enough to help, Mr. Griffin had his grandson by his side; teaching him how to treat people with respect and dignity.

In 2000, Bill and Linda built a Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home in Fairfield, located at 450 E. Main Street to serve the greater Freestone County area.

The traditions continue into the fourth generation of family service as great grandson William (Billy) Griffin Roughton II and wife Tina Territo Roughton serve as funeral directors at both Corsicana and Fairfield.

Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home in 2021. – Photo by Guy Chapman

55 Years – Trinity Baptist Church – 1966

Trinity Baptist Church, located at 1200 N. 13th St. in Corsicana, has served the Corsicana community since its 1966 opening.

In 2021, the active membership voted to sell the church property of the YMCA of Corsicana so the community center can expand its services. On June 6, Trinity Baptist Church celebrated its 55th anniversary with a final service in the sanctuary, which included special music by the the Raney family: Elton, Linda, and Steven, testimonies about the church over the years, and a brief message shared by Pastor Floyd Petersen.

The church has not closed to its congregation and will presently continue its services in the Baptist Student Ministry building located at Navarro College.

The Trinity Baptist Church, circa 2021. Photo by Guy Chapman

50 Years – Today Homes – March 1, 1971

Today Homes began as a partnership between W. S “Bill” Maupin and Ronny Willis. Willis eventually went back to full-time real estate during the 1973-1974 season, leaving Maupin in charge of the company. Maupin was assisted in the acquisition by Abe Stroud at the former First National Bank in Corsicana, who took a chance on the young entrepreneur.

Originally located at 2029 W. Seventh Avenue, the manufactured home retailer moved to its present day location of 1131 W. Seventh Avenue in 1974.

In 1984, the company shipped 42,000 housing units to Texas-based dealers. Despite numerous changes in the housing market over the last five decades, Today Homes has endured and continues its business of selling mobile homes and modular units, while providing affordable pricing and payments, homeowner warranties, insurance, and financing.

“Obviously, the business doesn’t reflect back on one person,” Maupin said. “I’ve always been able to hire really good people that work here. Most of the people have all be here twenty years or more. So far I’ve been lucky they like it here.”

“I tried to make them like it so I don’t have to work as hard,” Maupin added with a grin.

Bill Maupin, President of Today Homes, shared his personal reflections of the past fifty years: “It’s certainly a feeling of accomplishment when you feel like you’ve had to guide the company through good times and terrible times,” he said. “Maybe just recognizing the education you’ve had during that time period, and the fulfillment that you’ve given not only to your employees but hopefully the fulfillment that our customers have had too. We’ve basically helped people in so many cases.”

“The fulfillment is seeing people happy and smiling and owning their own homes instead of having to live in an apartment or renting from people, and the fulfillment our employees get from the satisfaction of knowing they helped people.”

50 Years – Warehouse Living Arts Center – 1971

The Warehouse Living Arts Center began as the Corsicana Community Playhouse, Inc in 1971 with a core of 20 people, getting its start at the at Navarro College’s Arena Theatre before moving to its present-day downtown location. On May 18, 1975 Mayor Sue Youngblood and State Representative Forrest Green dedicated the building at 210 East Collin to the Corsicana Community Playhouse. This building was a former K. Wolens Warehouse, and inspired the first use of the name Warehouse Living Arts Center.

In January of 1981, the tenth season began with the dedication of the WLAC’s current home at 119 West Sixth Avenue in downtown Corsicana. Built in the 1900s, the building has seen a number of hosts from Hardy and Peck, the Post Office, Roney’s Furniture and Appliance Store, Safeway, Goodyear, and the Living Word Church. At the time of the purchase, before officially becoming the current home of the WLAC, it’s inhabitants were Creative Interiors, JDH Printing, Hutson Foreign Car Repair and Montgomery Electric Company.

The Corsicana Children’s Company (now the Warehouse Youth Theatre Company) was formed in 1980, and in its first season were invited to perform at the University of Texas in Austin for the Southwest Theatre Association Convention. During the 1982-83 season the CCC were selected to participate in a children’s theatre exchange with the Portland Comprehensive School Workshop, Nottinghamshire, England. Here they performed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to an enthusiastic English crowd. In 1985, a WLAC production of A Christmas Carol went on a successful tour of North Central Texas.

Today, the Warehouse Living Arts Center produces five main stage shows a year, plus two youth productions, and puts on their big end of year show on the Palace Theatre stage. The theatre also makes use of its Terry Fator Studio space to present unique productions that would not be normally performed on the main stage. Additionally, the Warehouse hosts a number of classes and camps throughout the year to further arts education.

For their 50th Season, the WLAC reached out to its patrons with a list of shows that had been popular and successful over the course of its half century, and is representing these productions to modern audiences for its anniversary.

John Kaiser, Executive Director of the Warehouse Living Arts Center, shared this message: “What started out as a group of local talent putting on shows wherever they could snag a space (be it at the college, library, or in a court room) has turned into a 50 year legacy of arts and entertainment for Navarro County. We are excited to be celebrating this milestone year with a collection of shows that have been hits with the crowds over the course of our existence.

Personally, this theatre has been a big factor in my life and it is truly an honor to be its current executive director. Thank you to everyone who has been involved with the WLAC. Everyone who has stepped on our stage, worked behind the scenes, volunteered, helped with sets, sat on our board, bought season tickets, advertised in our playbills, provided us grants, and donated time and resources to this theatre & gallery – we are here because of you. Also, a big thank you to the Navarro Council of the Arts who do an amazing job curating our galley every year. This place does not exist without the community’s support; a statement that holds true for the past fifty years and the next.

Plans are in the making for a proper event to celebrate our anniversary, so stay tuned for that announcement!”

30 Years – Battletoads (video game series) – June 1, 1991

During the 1980s and 1990s, Corsicana was home to a video game company called Tradewest. Founded by Leland Cook, his son Byron, and their San Diego-based business partner John Rowe, the company published home video games for the consoles of the time, including the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In 1991, fresh off the success of such titles as Double Dragon, John Elway’s Quarterback, and Solar Jetman: Hunt for the Golden Warship, the Cooks of Tradewest partnered with the Stampers of United Kingdom based developer Rare to release Battletoads, an original fighting game created to provide a challenge against the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon. The game was designed by Tim and Chris Stamper, and Gregg Mayles.

Sporting colorful graphics, catchy music, and “Nintendo hard” difficulty (much has been made ado of the game’s speeder bikes in its infamous third level), the game won numerous awards in industry trade magazines, spawned a small selection of collectibles, an animated special, and in 1991, “Rash” the Battletoad made a live guest appearance on a float during 1991’s Derrick Days parade.

Tradewest continued to publish several new installments of the Battletoads series, debuting the fighting platformer on the Game Boy, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis. The ‘toads even partnered with another Tradewest classic in Battletoads & Double Dragon.

Rare was acquired by Microsoft in 2002 to create new games for their Xbox series of consoles. In 2020, a new entry in the Battletoads series was released for the Xbox One and PC.

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