70 years later: Remembering and rebuilding the Dr. Pepper Museum after the 1953 tornado

On May 11, 1953, a destructive force tore through Waco and forever altered the face of the city, including the iconic Dr. Pepper museum
Published: May. 8, 2023 at 5:32 PM CDT|Updated: May. 9, 2023 at 9:34 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - On May 11, 1953, a destructive force tore through Waco and forever altered the face of the city. The tornado injured 600 people, took 114 lives, and damaged hundreds of buildings, including the Dr. Pepper Museum.

To many, the museum is a beloved Waco landmark with deep roots to the Central Texas city.

“Dr. Pepper was invented here in Waco in 1885,” Joy Summar-Smith, the associate director of the Dr. Pepper museum, told KWTX. “The invention occurred at the old corner drugstore, which was located on the corner of 4th and Austin Ave.”

But the building the museum now calls home wasn’t always a museum.

“This building was built in 1906 as a bottling facility for the Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling company and their national headquarters,” Summar-Smith said.

That’s until May 11th, 1953, when a deadly EF-5 tornado, with winds up to 260 miles per hour, tore through downtown Waco, ripping off a portion of the building’s second floor.

“On the outside of the building, you’ll see what’s known as the ‘scar,’ which is where the tornado took off the corner of the building,” Summar-Smith said. “And then they rebuilt it with a similar colored brick, but it didn’t match perfectly.”

Despite taking just a week to repair, Summar-Smith says the building eventually closed in the 1960s after the bottle company relocated, leaving it vacant for decades.

“Eventually in 1985, a group of citizens around the 100th anniversary of Dr. Pepper’s invention got together and began to work on a dream of turning the old building into a museum,” Summar-Smith said. “And by 1991, they had done that.”

The launch of the museum jumpstarted a revitalization movement in what was a quiet downtown Waco at the time.

“The city was really using this project as a way to bring excitement back downtown, that there’s something here for people to do,” Summar-Smith said.

And with each restoration project it undergoes, like a new roof earlier this year, the museum continues to bring that same amount of excitement while paying homage to its rich history.

“We do have an exhibit about the 1953 Waco tornado,” Summar-Smith said of the museum. “In our exhibit, we trace the path of the tornado and its impact on those neighbors and communities it passed through.”