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Corrigan area’s illustrious history highlighted by Miller

One of three movie theatres that once existed in Corrigan.One of three movie theatres that once existed in Corrigan.

By Beverly Miller

Corrigan is located in the northern part of the county at the intersection of two major highways -- U.S. 287 and U.S. 59 North.

The town was once intersected by two railroads: The Waco, Beaumont, Trinity and Sabine Railroad and the Houston East and West Texas branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Because of its infrequent schedule and frequent minor wrecks, initials of the WBT&S Railroad were often dubbed "Wobble, Bobble, Turn Over and Stop".

Founded in the 1880's, the town was named for Pat Corrigan, the conductor on the first trains of the Houston West Texas Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad through Corrigan.

The first major landowner in the Corrigan area was J. B. Hendry, who emigrated with his family from Mississippi in the early 1850s. A highly educated man, Hendry had attended college and spoke several languages. He was the owner of four leagues of land, which now includes the town site of Corrigan, and built the first grist mill in the area. He donated land for the first school building in Corrigan and for the right-of-way of the Houston East and West Texas branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad through the Corrigan vicinity.

A Civil War veteran J.B. and his wife were the parents of 14 children.

The Hendry family home was on the same site as the present home of a Hendry granddaughter, Mrs. E. J. Kurtzemann ,and her son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. H.E. Pate.

Other businessmen in the town before and during the first decade of this century included Carl, Jake and Leo Bergman, Joe Birch, Ben Burch, J.W. Cobb, Dr. J.R. George, J.W. Leggett, Bart Meadows, J.H. Potts, Sam Reed, Tom Wilson and Edgar Vinson. Businessman John R. Williams was a blacksmith and gunsmith who lived near Corrigan.

The first commercial business enterprise in the town was a sawmill established in the 1880s by the Allen and Williams Company. In addition to the sawmill, saloons and stores, other early commercial firms included a creosote plant, an ice factory, a shoe shop, a barber shop, a wholesale meat products plant, a cotton gin, a livery stable, a bottling works and a photographer's studio. A newspaper, The Corrigan Index, was published in the town in 1892.

The bottling works was established in 1900 and located near Bear Creek. Soft drinks were produced in strawberry, vanilla, banana, wintergreen and other flavors. A favorite drink was called "Ho-Yan", a drink similar to the modern "cola" drinks.

In 1871, the first building for the Union Springs Missionary Baptist Church was erected on the site of the present structure. Built by the first pastor, J.W. Know, with the assistance of Holcomb Calloway, Ransom Chandler, J.B. Hendry and Allen Maxey, and with the builder also furnishing all material, the structure served the dual purpose of church and school.

The Methodist Church was organized in Corrigan in 1887. Church services were held by Dr. E.P. Angell, a local physician and minister. The first church services were held in the Stewart home in the eastern part of town.

A Catholic Church was built in Corrigan in 1895. The former Corrigan Flower Shop is located on the site of this early church. Land for the church was given by Alfred Holcomb, a local hotel owner.

Bishop Gallagher, then Bishop of Galveston, dedicated the church soon after completion of the building.

The Damascus Missionary Baptist Church near Corrigan was organized in 1863 by the Rev. J.R. Dowell, Jimmy Jones, and Sam Saxon. On a designated day each man agreed to ride a horse from a different direction for one hour and the point where they met, they would gather other settlers in the area and organize a church. When the men met at the end of the hour, they blew their horns and other area settlers rode horses to meet them. A prayer service was held and a church organized, which they decided to name Damascus from the ancient city in the country of Syria.
The first church building was a small one built of logs, hauled by ox-team by the Rev. R.W. Courtney from a sawmill at Potomac, now one of the numerous sawmill ghost towns in north Polk County.

Near the church is the Damascus Cemetery, and like the "City of the Dead" in the old-world Damascus, the cemetery has graves of marked interest. Old graves mounded over with rocks, and graves once covered with a shingle roof supported by pillars, bespeak of Old South traditions among settlers in the area.

The first school in Corrigan was established in the 1800s on land donated by J.B. Hendry, and the small frame structure was near the Stewart home in the eastern part of town. The first teacher in Corrigan was Miss Bettie Burch.

Born in 1857 near the pioneer Polk County town of Moscow, Miss Burch was a descendant of a soldier in the Army of the American Revolution and was a daughter of James Burch. James Burch and his brother, Bob, served under General Sam Houston during the Texas Revolution and were in the Battle of San Jacinto.

In 1900 Miss Burch adopted the three small children of her brother, Jim Burch and his wife, who died a few months apart. With the aid of another brother, Ben Burch, then a businessman in Corrigan, she established the Burch Hotel which she owned for many years. Until the building was razed several years ago, it was Corrigan's oldest landmark. Miss Burch lived to be 94 and is buried in the Burch Family Cemetery, often called the Catholic Cemetery, near Moscow, where her grandfather, Samuel Burch, was buried in 1850.

Another early teacher at Corrigan was Burrell Magee, who also taught in Polk County schools. Known for his excellent scholarship, he was also an artist and a musician. Archie Saxon, a descendant of Sam Saxon who was among the earliest settlers in north Polk County, also excelled as a teacher in the Corrigan area. In addition to teaching in area community schools, he also served as a Corrigan High School Principal before 1910.

The first brick school building, a two-story structure, was completed in 1910. J.A. Webb was school superintendent in 1910. Members of the board of education were Dr. W.G. Pullen, president; Eugene Robison, secretary; E.T. Sparks, treasurer; and members E.A. Arrington, Jake Bergman, W.H. Caton and E.C. Suber.

As I'm drawing to an end of this article, I remembered that the Polk County Enterprise had written an article on Kelly Shadix, who had turned an old building into a "Corrigan Museum". I thought well, she might have just the right "story of interest" to liven up all the history. She not only had a few, she could be a walking, talking history book herself.

Kelly grew up in the home with her great-great-grandparents, Anna Laura and Emmitt Knox. Her grandparents were Fred and Clara Smith. Kelly's dad is Ronnie Smith. She commented that being a part of such knowledge about the years "way back" could be both a blessing as well as a curse (a lot of memories, pictures and books etc). Kelly commented that most of her friends are now in their 80's.

As a child, Kelly spent time viewing stacks of previous "school yearbooks". When in a conversation with someone on the street, she would ask "what year did you graduate?" Then she learned that it was more appropriate to ask, "Who are some of the people you went to school with?" (being careful not to cause confusion or hurt feelings).

I'm now going to introduce you to the Corrigan that will hold your interest.

Corrigan once had three movie theaters, not at the same time. The last one, owned by the Holleman's, was torn down in 1973.

Cleo and Emmitt Bergman and Vernon Leo Bergman were brothers and they each had a grocery store, across the street from each other. Another store was called, the Economy Store.

As Kelly began to digitalize her collection of town photos, she noticed a faded sign under all the many coats of paint on this store. She discovered that the sign read, "Mistroit". Seems in the 1930s, the originator of a Livingston Mistroit store also had a store in Corrigan! Kelly commented that Corrigan had seven independent small-town grocery stores until Brookshire Bros. came to town, closing down the smaller grocery stores. It's happened to other small towns that we all hold dear in our memories and dreams of time long ago!

The people in the town somehow has disagreed on the number of full service "filling stations' that Corrigan has had over those "gone-by days". It is thought the town had 15, but for sure we have found them to agree to at least 10, according to Kelly. One thing is for sure, those of us who can remember those "filling stations" know the days of having the floorboard of your car swept out, oil checked, windows washed and candy for all the kids, are long gone and are just fond memories to those who had the opportunity to enjoy the "good ol days"!

I asked Kelly if she had a "funny story" about Corrigan. She had this one to share with us.
The store that sets next to her office and the "museum" once set beside "the dime store". In junior high she wrote a paper and recalled that the building had once been a two-story building. As she researched, by reading newspapers from that era, during the 1920-30s the only brick hotel advertised in the newspaper was modern, air conditioned, fire proof and was located next to the Citizens State Bank. In June 1934, the hotel burned! The fire burned the bank and gutted the hotel! The one store became the Brookshire Bros Grocery and yes, it turned out that the building was known as The "Dime Store".

Kelly ended by recalling that she had played in all these buildings as a child and was raised on these streets and now she has taken on furnishing the museum with the help of the generous people of Corrigan who bring the history and the items from their loved ones that has helped to make Corrigan the friendly, loving town that it is today.