Milam County Texas Archives
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  Contributed by: Milam County Genealogical Society

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Written by Sharon Hodgea and taken from the following sources:
Lella Battle Hisory of Milam Co., TX; Irma D"nalogtonDs deRmlalecden)cea

The founding of the city of Rockdale is reckoned from the opening of the railroad line and the subsequent settlement of the area early in 1874 But the earliest settlers came in the fall of 1873, adventurous people who hurried to the site that had been designated as the future railhead of the International Railroad. The area soon looked like a "tent city." This railroad line, which was the first to build in Milam County, incorporated in 1870 with authority to build from Longview Junction south to Laredo. In 1873 when the line began to extend from Hearne to Austin, the company acquired right- of-way in Milam County. At the completion of the track in late January 1874, the new terminus of the International and Great Northern Railroad was a bustling frontier settlement. The new town received a glowing report in an editorial printed in the Galveston Weelcly News dated February 9, 1874.

Hence, it is with pleasure I hail the birth of Rockdale, the future distributing point for Milam, Bell, Williamson and Burleson counties . . . by the completion of the Brazos bridge is connected with the outside world . . . it is in the heart of one of the best agricultural districts in Texas. The town already contains from twenty to thirty houses, and is rapidly growing. Being the present terminus of this immense road, situated in a most healthy and convenient locality . . . what is to prevent Rockdale from becoming one of the most important points in the interior? . . . Rockdale is destined to become the great shipping point for Texas stock.

The new settlement was named Rockdale by Mrs. B. F. Ackerman of Cameron. The railroad company had accorded her this privilege, as her husband had donated part of the land on which the town was located. According to legend, Mrs. Ackerman had seen a ten foot high rock on the prairie a short distance north of the town. Noticing also that the new settlement was situated in a rather low place with hills all around, she hit upon the name Rockdale. That name was acceptable to the railroad offficials.

At some time, possibly in 1873, George Green, B. F. Ackerman, and Frank Smith had sold the railroad company four hundred acres of land out of the William Allen survey on which to lay off a town. According to the deed dated July 15, 1874, which was subsequently filed at the county courthouse on September 2, the survey showed the town containing thirty-five blocks of lots. Streets and alleys contiguous to those lots were dedicated to the public. Specific strips of land on both sides of the track were marked off as a reservation belonging solely to the railroad company. Numerous buildings were constructed on the reservation, such as cattle pens, warehouses, and a roundhouse.

Lots sold quickly as settlers poured into the area. Tents gave way to wooden buildings and soon many of those were replaced by more permanent brick structures. The photographer, John Scott, declared that "everything about the place was in that unsettled condition characteristic of new western towns. " However, business boomed.

Benjamin and Joseph Loewenstein, natives of Prussia, opened B. Loewenstein and Bros. on December 24, 1873, with an inventory valued at S200 or S300, which they had broaht by ox team. They prospered as the town grew and both became leaders in the community.

Another major business enterprise commenced about the same time. E. M. Scarbrough, representing H. P. Hale and Company of Hearne, rode horseback to the new townsite late in 1873, where he bought a lot on Main Street for $150. Upon the completion of the railroad track, H. P. Hale and Company opened for business in a two-story wooden building. Scarbrough acted as a silent partner until the death of H. P. Hale in 1882. At that time the firm of Scarbrough & Hicks Company was established. R. H. Hicks, former bookkeeper for Hale, became a partner, and the Rockdale firm became one of the strongest mercantile establishments in Central Texas. In 1889 E. M. Scarbrough moved to Austin "for reasons other than of a business nature." Four years later he opened a branch house in that city. The local Scarbrough & Hicks Company operated as a partnership until 1913 when John Hicks and associates acquired the Scarbrough interests. The first setback in more than fifty years of enterprise and service came when the Scarbrough & Hicks store burned to the ground in the disastrous fire of September 1935, which took the lives of two firemen. The new store opened the following January under the ownership of J. O. Newton and sons.

Business prospered during the two years Rockdale was the railroad terminus. In fact, the new town became the commercial center of Milam County, with a trade territory from the Brazos River to Georgetown and from Giddings north toward Waco. Bell, Burleson, Williamson, Coryell, Milam, Lee and other counties made Rockdale their market town and poured their products into it, notably cattle and cotton. According to a June 1874 newspaper, nine to ten cars of cattle were shipped daily from the railhead north to St. Louis. Cotton was an equally profitable product. The November 8, 1875, issue of the Galveston Weekly News reported that "over two hundred bales of cotton came to market to day and it commands extra prices, Rockdale merchants being content to simply exchange the cotton for goods in Galveston. Three thousand bales were shipped from here during October and about 5,000 this season."

One of the cotton buyers, Solon Joynes, weighed and shipped the first bale of cotton out of Rockdale in early 1874.

With the business boom came a boom in banks. In January 1874 Isaac Jalonick, representing Stowe & Wilmerding of Galveston, opened the Rockdale Bank on the corner of Milam and Main Streets. That bank failed two years later but was reopened shortly thereafter. In 1877 Judge James S. Perry acquired the bank and maintained its operation until 1892. The second national bank in the county was the First National Bank of Rockdale, which~was organized in December 1889, with C. H. Coffield as president and Ben Loewenstein as vice-president. Ben Loewenstein became president of the new Rockdale State Bank about 1906. Many years later that bank absorbed the First National Bank and the Citizens State Bank, which had been organized in 1912.

During Rockdale's early years publicity played a major role in attracting settlers to the new town. Much of that favorable publicity undoubtedly came from the local newspaper, the Mllam County Messenger, which was under the management of W. M. McGregor and James A. Muir until 1876. After changing hands several times, the paper merged with the Rockdale Reporter in the early 1900's.

The attractiveness of Rockdale as a place to settle was extolled in other newspapers around the state. The Galveston Weekly News of November 9, 1874, described the town as being "delightfully located in a thriving section of the county, which is contributing to its wealth. There are two or three banks fifty or sixty merchants, and plenty of saloons, and has generally all the appearances of a railroad town .... While all is new and in some degree crude, there are some fine stone and brick buildings .... Where a population of eighteen hundred now thrive, was ten months ago the home of the deer, and the pleasure ground of the black bear." The following summer the News printed the following: "The appearance of the town has changed greatly in the last six months. Instead of a frontier terminus it has now the appearance of a substantial interior town. Our county is daily receiving immigrants and Rockdale no doubt in the near future will be a town of considerable importance. "

Rockdale grew rapidly when the railroad commenced operation. Within a few months there was sufficient population for incorporation under the incorporation law of 1858. Interested citizens applied to the chief justice of the county court. An election was held on May 8, 1874, in which a majority of voters favored incorportion. In early June or July the justice declared that "the inhabitants of the town of Rockdale are incorporated. " One square mile whose center would be the intersection of Bell and Main would be known as Rockdale. The following year on June 14, the city council under the guidance of the first mayor, Alfred A. Burck, passed an ordinance changing the name Qf the "town of Rockdale" to the "City of Rockdale," in accordance with the town's increase in population and corresponding legislative act regarding the incorporation of cities of one thousand or more inhabitants.

One interesting establishment in the early days of Rockdale was the Mundine Hotel. In 1880 John Mundine of Lexington built a three-story brick structure on the corner of Main and Railroad streets, at the present site of McVoy's Grocery Store. The hotel opened in 1881 under the management of Mrs. W. A. Brooks and soon became the social center of the town. But on June 8, 1888, the Mundine Hotel was destroyed by the most disastrous fire in Milam County. That fire was also the most tragic, as twelve people lost their lives. Mrs. Brooks and her four children were among the deceased. They were laid to rest in the new I. O. O. F. Cemetery.

This sketch of the early history of Rockdale must end here, although only a few people who were important to the settling and building of the town have been mentioned. Many more people made the history of Rockdale in its early years. Some of those people will be noted in other sections of this book.

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