Corinth's Architectural Heritage:
Rubel's Department Store, built in 1873-1874, was a Corinth landmark for generations, and holds treasured memories for many Corinth and Alcorn County residents. The Rubel family erected the building and remained in control of its fate until it was torn down in the spring of 1961.
Emanuel Rubel (1837 - ca. 1907) and Leopold Sekeles (1830 - 1912) built the handsome four-story Rubel's Department Store building on the corner lot of Fillmore and Cruise Streets, in 1873 - 1874. According to Goodspeed's Biographical History, Emanuel Rubel supervised the building, "He made his own brick, arranged everything, and the building...with a seventy-five foot front, cost over $40,000....." Martin Seigrist is credited by oral tradition as the architect and significant collaborator in the construction of the building. Martin Seigrist's (1825 - 1897) best known works include the Curlee House, the Corinth Machinery Building, Tishomingo Hotel (burned by the Confederates leaving town in 1865), and the old Corona Female College (destroyed by the Federals as they evacuated Corinth in January 1864).
In the mid-1870's, plans were made to add a new railroad line through Corinth and a cotton factory was to be started. Speculating on the favorable economic impact these two events would have on the area, the owners originally constructed the building for use as a hotel. When both of the planned enterprises failed to materialize, the community could not support such a sizable hotel. Adolph Rubel, a son of Abe Rubel who owned the department store entirely from 1912 until his death in 1931, stated in a 1977 interview with Margaret Greene Rogers, a Corinth historian, that he believed the building was originally intended to be a hotel. He recollected, "...I remember...all the little rooms there with the little fireplaces in each room and the big dining room on the second floor where the lobby was." It is not known whether the upper levels were ever actually used as a hotel.
Deeds recorded in old Tishomingo County show that E. Rubel, L. Sekeles, L. S. Dyer and William R. Borroum purchased the Lots 1, 2 and 3 in Block 53 of the Mitchell & Mask Survey of Corinth in October of 1868 for $1,500.00. Emanuel Rubel's first store in Corinth in 1858 was a modest frame structure on Cruise Street. Then, in 1873-74, he erected the impressive four-story brick structure we remember today. Ernest F. Waits, the talented Fillmore Street jeweler, drew a sketch of that first store for Rubel's 40th anniversary sales advertisement in 1898.
The firm of Sekeles & Rubel purchased other lots on the Block 53 over a period of years. Abe Rubel, a nephew of Emanuel Rubel, acquired Leopold Sekeles' interest in the Fillmore Street property and store building in March of 1899. In 1912 the heirs of Emanuel Rubel sold the remaining half interest to Abe Rubel.
Later, in 1905, Thomas Anderson of Aberdeen, Mississippi, was commissioned to remodel the interior of the Rubel building. The exterior also received modern improvements on two occasions. The enhancement of show windows made it the retail showplace of downtown Corinth.
When Abe Rubel died in 1931, he left the property to all of his ten children. However, the administrative control of the business passed to his son Jake Rubel. Jake Rubel died on January 4, 1946, at which time the primary responsibility of carrying on the business fell to another son, Simon. Shortly before his death on October 30, 1956, Simon Rubel shut the doors of the business. In the 1977 interview with Margaret Greene Rogers, Adolph Rubel stated that his brother, Simon, "...closed the store up before he died and sold it to a couple of men up in Tennessee who liquidated it. They sold all the merchandise. That was...six or eight months before he died." The ownership of the building remained with the Rubel family.
The Rubel building stood empty for quite awhile before it was torn down in the spring of 1961. Adolph Rubel said in 1977, "It belonged to the family then, the building did; and we couldn't get anybody to rent it. We couldn't get anybody to buy it. It was too big and it was too old. It was antiquated. It wasn't modern. The outcome of it was, we had to tear it down." Except for the basement, which exists under the replacement structure, the Rubel Department Store building today is, sadly, only a memory. In conversations around Corinth today, one still hears references to the site as "Rubel's Corner."
One shared and most treasured Christmas memory for many, now much older, children is Rubel's Toy Land. One Corinth resident, Garrett Kennedy shared a treasured Christmas memory from many years ago. Garrett recalled, "In post-depression Corinth, the thrill of just going to Rubel's Toy Land seemed to make up for what, otherwise (by today's standards) would be a rather meager Christmas in terms of gifts." Youngsters around Corinth, Mississippi, remember being treated to this extraordinary experience, stimulating their imaginations far beyond the boundaries of their small-town surroundings.
Entering Rubel's Department Store, a child would be greeted by a tall, uniformed doorman who politely invited everyone through the grand entryway into the store. This gentleman, dressed in attire fit for New York's Fifth Avenue but possessing the charm of a Southern gentleman, was Mr. Sam Sharp. Sam, having walked into the store one day looking for a job, was hired by Abe Rubel. Abe gave Sharp a job of greeting customers as they came in. Sam Sharp remained in that same job from that day until the closure of the store, greeting generations of Corinthians.
Joe McKewen, a well-known and long-time Corinth photographer, recalls, "As a seven or eight year old boy when I went in to see my Daddy who worked at Rubel's, Mr. Sam would open the door for me just like he would for the president of the bank."
Proceeding through the first floor of the store, a child would next notice the wire baskets with leather pouches holding sales tickets and cash flying overhead suspended on a wire network which carried them to the second floor. The "central cashier" handled the transactions, making change and returning the baskets to the clerks below. The adventure from the first floor to the third floor Toy Land was made by way of the only public elevator within a radius of fifty miles of Corinth. Upon finally reaching the wall-to-wall toys arranged artfully around the large showroom, children felt as if they had entered a fantasy world where dreams and Christmas wishes came true.
During World War II, a young man in uniform named Howard Johnson was stationed nearby. Howard, who had formerly worked in Memphis, Tennessee, at Goldsmith's Department Store, visited Rubel's and was offered a job as a window dresser by Simon Rubel.
The first Christmas of his employment, Howard and his assistant, Miss "Dump" Galyean, created a ten-foot high animated model of Santa Claus that moved, talked and sang. A throne was placed atop the marquee where Santa sat and talked to the children below. Santa also sang Christmas favorites as an extra treat for Christmas shoppers. Joe McKewen recalled warmly, "That big ol' Santa moved and said, 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' Oh, that was a big novelty! -- and a wonderful memory."
Other Corinthians may have special memories of Rubel's Department Store at other times. Johnson and his assistant Miss Galyean made preparations for the end of World War II by making a large Statute of Liberty, resplendent with lighting and an outdoor sound system. It was placed covered over the top of the front door marquee. Johnson related that they completed the project late, around five-thirty in the afternoon, and then drove home from work. No sooner had Howard entered the front door of his home when he heard the radio announcement that the Germans had surrendered, signaling the end of the war in Europe! Immediately, Johnson and Galyean returned to Rubel's, enthusiastically turning on all the display lights, hooking up the sound system which proudly proclaimed, "God Bless America". The display was quickly undraped before a growing assemblage.
According to Johnson, "People started coming from everywhere. The crowd celebrated until three in the morning. You couldn't walk two feet in a straight line there were so many people there. Everybody was dancing, hugging -- it was really something. Court Square didn't have any lights so everything was down at Rubel's Corner. The close of the war in the Pacific produced almost the same type celebration -- with even more people! We had created a large world globe and placed it covered on top of the marquee a few days before the end of the war and peace was declared."
The Rubels were a large family and well respected in the community. Howard Johnson recalls, "The whole time I was there, they never fired anybody. If you worked there, it was for life. Nobody ever wanted to leave -- even though the pay was low -- because everyone at that store was just one big happy family."
The wonderful sense of family that existed between the Rubel Department Store and the local residents is exemplified in another story related by Johnson. During the war, the morale of the mothers of enlisted men was extremely low. At Johnson's suggestion, Rubel's asked for photographs of local servicemen in their advertisements. According to Johnson, "We took every piece of merchandise we had out of the show windows and put the boys photographs on display. Mothers passing Rubel's would point out their sons' pictures. It was so moving and a great morale booster."
After Johnson's departure from the Rubel store, Miss "Dump" Galyean continued dressing the Christmas windows. Her creativity at Rubel's extended to the masterpieces she designed in her own yard at Christmas. Her home was located on Smithbridge Road in Corinth near Turner's Hill. In the early fifties, a traditional Christmas activity for many families was to drive out to the Galyean home to see the elaborate Christmas lights and decorations, replete with moving figures, adorning her lawn.
Rubel's Department Store and Toy Land were a regular feature of Christmas retail merchandising in the small southern town of Corinth until the mid-1950's. Townsfolk still think back on the wonder and splendor of a fine old department store and regret the loss of the structure and what it meant to their town. Howard Johnson who formerly worked at the store recalled driving into Corinth during the time the building was being demolished: "…tears came to my eyes…."
Clearly, the mere mention of the Rubel Department Store evokes pleasant images in the minds of those who remember the grandiose old store. Although the building itself is lost forever, its legacy will remain for those who experienced the flavor of shopping there and the happy recollections of childhood. Many Corinthians still suffer a twinge of regret, a mourning for things past, when they drive or walk by "Rubel's Corner."
© 1997 Stephanie L. Sandy
Photo and Illustration Credits
1920's color postcard above features corner of Cruise and Fillmore Streets in Corinth and Rubel's Department Store. Postcard courtesy of Forrest Cooper Collection.
1956 photo of Rubel Department Store after closing. Photo courtesy of Northeast Mississippi Museum Collection.
Engraved drawing by E.F. Waits of original 1856 Rubel's store featured in 40th anniversary 1898 newspaper advertisement.
© 1997 Stephanie L. Sandy