Uncle Fletch Davis, seen above in the hat in this family photo, is believed by many to be the father of the hamburger. Other states, however, have jumped in the fray and claimed their native sons invented the burger.

Courtesy photo
Athens Review, Athens, Texas

The exact date Uncle Fletch Davis slapped his first ground beef patty between two slices of bread is still a mystery, but the story that he took his burgers to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis is apparently true.

Descendants of Davis gathered last week to show they have the documents to prove it.

Athens civic leaders Peggy Gould and Mary Lou Williams on Thursday visited the home of Jim and Judy Allison to pore over old pictures, papers and memorabilia. Included in those items is Davis’ original admission ticket to the 1904 event.

“It’s been fun, and we’re gonna win,” said Jim, sizing up the burger wars which have intensified recently after claims from Connecticut and Wisconsin that burgers from their states preceded the Athens creation.

Joining them at the house near Eustace were Harvey Allison and Wanda Hearm.

“We’re actually related to Davis’ wife, Siddy,” Hearm said. “Her real name was Recilla. Fletch passed away about 1940 and left no direct descendants. He had brothers and sisters, but they never came to Texas.”

The centerpiece in the collection of Fletch history was a book of passes to the fair in St. Louis, signed by Fletcher Davis himself.

“Having his signature shows for sure it was his book,” Gould said.

The crinkled booklet contains individual passes for each day at the fair. It’s too delicate to endure much handling, so pictures were taken and blown up to reveal the signature indeed is that of Fletcher Davis.

The City of St. Louis web site credits the 1904 fair with popularizing the ice cream cone, iced tea and the hot dog. Davis was apparently there doing the same for the hamburger.

“I guess this interest in the Home of the Hamburger dates back to Frank X. Tolbert,” Gould said. Tolbert, a historian and newspaper columnist, was a frequent judge at the Black Eyed Pea Cookoff.

“He said, ‘Did you realize the hamburger was founded in Athens?’ Then he suggested I start a festival. He died just before the first one,” Gould said.

“I’ve always been interested in the history of it,” said Harvey, as he passed a stack of pictures around the table. “Growing up, I liked to spend my time here.”

“This was actually the old home place,” Jim said. “We bought it from relatives in 2001.”

Williams held a copy of Tolbert’s book that included a chapter about the Henderson County origin of the hamburger. It mentions a publication in which the McDonald’s cooperation recognizes Athens as the birthplace of their billion-selling product.

“I contacted McDonald’s about it. They said they didn’t have anything about it in their files,” Williams said.

Harvey said a woman in Saginaw, Texas, has a copy of the document where McDonald’s traced the hamburger back to the St. Louis World’s Fair. Her father owned a pottery business in Henderson County, he said.

“Fletch started cooking hamburgers at the pottery plant for the workers at lunch,” Gould said.

Near the table Jim has a montage of pictures from his 2005 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Surprisingly, his segment has nothing to do with the hamburger. He was there to play Jingle Bells on a houseplant leaf.

“You can’t leave before you watch the video,” he said.

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