With the recent passing of Billy Joe Shaver, I felt the next town I wrote about had to be none other than Billy Joe's hometown of Corsicana, Texas. With a population of roughly 24,000 people, Corsicana isn't even close to being a ghost town. But it still deserves an honorable mention for two of its most notable residents and two of my favorite musicians; Billy Joe Shaver and Lefty Frizzell.
Unlike most of the towns I photograph, Corsicana has an interstate running through it and sits just 58 miles southeast of Dallas. The town is in Navarro County and was named after Texas Revolution hero Jose Antonio Navarro, an early Texas legislator and a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence (Side note: in case you didn't know, Texas was once its own country). While Jose Antonio Navarro was a native Texan, he named Corsicana after Corsica, a small island in the Mediterranean where his parents were born. Navarro County was created in 1848 by the Texas Legislature and soon after its inception, a committee was appointed to choose a site for the county seat. One of the town's earliest settlers, David R. Mitchell, donated 100 acres of land that would soon become Corsicana.
Corsicana was governed by a commission whose responsibility was to map the town and sell lots. Another early settler in town named Hampton McKinney built a log cabin to live in that also served as a school, post office, courthouse, and public office. He also operated the town's only hotel at the time, the McKinney Tavern. The town's first courthouse, a two-room log structure, was built in 1849 and also served as the town's church and civic center until the new courthouse was built in 1853. Corsicana seemed to be thriving, as they also had a hardware store, carpenter shop, drug store, saddle shop, saloon, and a blacksmith shop. The town's first newspaper, the Prairie Blade, was founded in 1855, only to be replaced by the Express in 1857, which was later replaced by the Observer on the eve of the American Civil War in 1861.
The town saw significant growth in 1871 when the town's first bank opened and the Houston & Central Texas Railroad made its way to town. The coming of the railroad brought numerous new residents, many of whom went on to open stores near the train depot. By the mid 1880s, Corsicana had become the leading trading and shipping center for the area. By 1872, the town established a mayoral form of government and organized a public school system, fire department, telephone system, and an orphanage.
In the early 1890s, the town experienced an oil boom. While drilling for water, workers struck a pocket of oil and gas leading to Texas' first oil boom! Soon after, nearly every lot in town was under lease and wells were being drilled within city limits. By 1898, there were 287 wells producing oil in the Corsicana area.
The oil boom brought a wave of prosperity with the construction of a new courthouse well under way, as well as the Corsicana Chamber of Commerce. In 1902 the town left behind mule-drawn carriages and upgraded to electric trolleys. By 1923, a second and even larger oil boom hit the area and once again brought prosperity to the town. During the oil boom's peak, Corsicana is said to have had as many as 28,000 residents. However, by the Great Depression, many residents found themselves out of work. The number of businesses in town dwindled from 780 to 500 by 1936. The cotton industry suffered the most, but the oil industry helped mitigate the effects of the Depression. By the end of the decade, Corsicana's economy was showing signs of a rebound and soon the town was thriving again with five banks, a daily newspaper, and multiple hospitals, hotels, movie theaters, and oil pumping stations.
These days, Corsicana may not be considered a thriving town, but it's certainly not doing poorly by any means. The town still has well over 1,200 operating businesses and access to Interstate 45, which connects the Houston area to the Dallas area. And most notably, it was once home to two of Texas' most beloved country music crooners, Lefty Frizzell and Billy Joe Shaver. While both Lefty and Billy Joe have sadly left this earth, their music still lives on though Texans everywhere. It's not uncommon to roll into a honky tonk or beer joint and hear "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" by Lefty or "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train" by Billy Joe. At the end of the day, we have Corsicana to thank for two things: Texas' first oil boom which led to much of the state's economic growth and the birth of two Texas singer-songwriter legends. Thank you, Corsicana, and we love you.
Scenes from downtown Corsicana. Pictured here (and above) is the State National Bank Building, erected in 1926. It is the towns only "skyscraper" standing 8 stories tall.
A restored Dr. Pepper mural outside of Dee's Place, a local diner and soda shop. Sadly Dee's Place was closed when I visited, but the inside is as vintage and amazing as you'd expect of a small town soda shop!
The Palace Theater, built in 1921, served as Corsicana's vaudeville house. The theater still operates and serves as a venue for live music. It was saved from demolition and restored in the 1990s.
Withrow Furniture is still alive and well and has been selling furniture to the Corsicana area since 1930.
A ghost sign on the side of Withrow Furniture.
The Corsicana Opry was built in 1905 and can be rented for live music, weddings, receptions, and other social gatherings. According to their website, the building has ghosts!
I don't know much about the Nut House, but Chris Ruiz from Old Sad Songs Photography told me he was going to leave me there.