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This chapter is for all the Allison kids, past, present, and future, who were, are, or will be laughed at and made fun of by their classmates when announcing at “show and tell” that one of their relatives invented the hamburger. Permission granted to proudly take this material to school.
Even if Fletcher Short Davis, a.k.a. Old Dave, a.k.a. Uncle Fletch, had not invented the hamburger, he still would have been an interesting uncle to spend time with and brag about. The Athens Daily Review, March 26, 1984, in an article about the hamburger marker dedication, quotes Frank X. Tolbert, author of “Tolbert’s Texas,” as saying that Fletch was the only man in Athens offering to volunteer his services to paint the yellow center stripe down the new ten mile road (Highway 31) between Athens and Murchison in the early 1890s. Fletch put cotton-picking pads on his knees and painted that center stripe with a paint brush. Evidently, he started in Athens and, according to Buddy Miller, Jr. who was his great-nephew, “he backed all the way to Murchison.”
By trade he was a potter, more specifically a “turner” for McKindree Miller, owner of Miller’s Pottery in Athens. But in his spare time, he managed to demolish, almost single-handedly the old jail, help construct a new department store, and play baseball on the town team. He later in life served as an Athens city policeman, was appointed the Eustace Postmaster, managed the Fixit Shop, and was half-owner of the W.E Henry Bakery. He was very much involved in the local, state, and national political affairs of the day, giving speeches, serving as convention state delegate, and often writing letters of support.
According to Tolbert, he was a natural and imaginative cook. When the pottery business slowed down in the late 1800s, Uncle Fletch opened a lunch counter next to the J.J. Powers drugstore in the town square of Athens and concocted a new and different sandwich which later became known as the hamburger.
In 1896, Fletcher Davis married Recilla “Ciddy” Allison, daughter of Harvey and Sarah Elizabeth Allison, and sister-in-law to his potter boss, McKindree Miller. In 1904, Uncle Fletch and Aunt Ciddy went to the St. Louis World’s Fair, rented a house in Webster Grove, Missouri, where he had previously lived, and Fletch became a World’s Fair vendor of the new sandwich. Tolbert describes it as ground beef put between two slices of home-baked bread, garnished with ground mustard mixed with mayonnaise, a big slice of Bermuda onion, and sliced cucumber pickles.
The rest is history, although over the years, other cities have tried to claim the fame in a long-standing hamburger battle. According to Tolbert, “ . . . ‘Hamburger University,’ the McDonald’s food chain research organization, has apparently worked hard on the history of the chain’s principal product. And Hamburger University’s conclusion is that an anonymous food vendor at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair was the first to introduce the sandwich to the public and was probably the innovator.”
According to the American Automobile Association’s magazine, “Texas Journey,” May/June 2015, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Denver agrees and credits Fletcher Davis as inventor of the hamburger.
Athens, Texas, is proud of its hamburger heritage. In 1984, a marker dedication was held to commemorate the downtown site of Uncle Fletch’s café. Several Allison descendants were recognized and introduced to the crowd. Since that time, Texas Governor William P. Clements designated July 28, 1990, as Texas Hamburger Day. On March 22, 2007, the State of Texas House of Representatives, approved by Governor Rick Perry, formally designated Athens, Texas, as the Original Home of the Hamburger.
Uncle Fletch was born in 1864 in Winchester, Illinois. He died in 1940 in Athens, Texas. He certainly made his mark in life and is remembered annually in Athens, at the Uncle Fletch Hamburger Cook-off. This event is always attended by Allison Cousins and their families who oftentimes man a booth displaying Uncle Fletch memorabilia, including many photos and lots of downhome stories about the good ole days. Of course, the hamburgers are plentiful, and a great time is had by all.
If there's more of the history that you are interested in, please don't hesitate to learn more!