By the early 1890s the rapidly expanding City of Corsicana had outgrown its water supply, and the following year civic leaders formed the Corsicana Water Development Company with the aim of tapping a shallow artesian well in the area. Drilling began in the spring of 1894; but instead of water, the company hit a large pocket of oil and gas. The find, the first significant discovery of oil west of the Mississippi River, led to Texas' first oil boom. Within a short time nearly every lot in the town and in the surrounding area was under lease, and wells were being drilled within the city limits: five in 1896 and fifty-seven the following year. The first oil refinery in the state was built in 1897, and by 1898 there were 287 producing wells in the Corsicana field. The oil find attracted numerous oil men from the East, among them Edwy R. Brown, H.C. Folger, W.C. Proctor, C.N. Payne, and J.S. Cullinan, founder of the Cullinan Oil Company, which later evolved into the Magnolia Oil Company. The discovery of oil transformed Corsicana from a regional agricultural shipping town to an important oil and industrial center, spawning a number of allied businesses, including the Johnston-Akins-Rittersbacher shops (later known as American Well Prospecting Company), producer of the newly-invented rotary drilling bits. By 1900 Corsicana had grown considerably, with three banks, twelve newspapers, eight hotels, forty-nine retail stores, a cotton mill, thirty-two doctors, and thirty-five saloons. The oil boom brought a new wave of prosperity to the town. A new courthouse, the one currently still in use, was completed in 1905, and in 1917 the Corsicana Chamber of Commerce was founded. In 1923 a second, even larger oil deposit, the Powell Oilfield, was discovered, unleashing a new oil boom. Within a few months Corsicana's population swelled to unprecedented heights; some estimates placed the number of residents as high as 28,000 during the peak months of the oil frenzy. New construction transformed the face of the city, and street lights were installed for the first time to control the increased traffic. During the height of the Powell field boom 550 wells in and around the city produced an estimated 354,000 barrels per day.
The oil business continued to form the mainstay of the town's economy. Huge oil profits fostered great wealth in Corsicana, and during the early 1950s there were said to be at least twenty-one millionaires in the town. In 1953 it was claimed to have the highest per capita income of any Texas city. In 1956 a new oilfield was discovered in East Corsicana, and within months there were over 500 wells, nearly one drill rig in every backyard.
The oil boom, at the turn-of-the-century and again in the 1920’s, brought a variety of new citizens and commerce to town, and funded the construction of Corsicana’s historic commercial and residential properties. In 1976, Corsicana leaders determined that an Annual Event should be established commemorating Corsicana’s rich oil history and its significant impact on the community’s development. The first “Derrick Days” was held that year and every spring thereafter, growing in size with the addition of new activities each year.
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