Founding of Rockdale
The founding of Rockdale began when the International and Great Northern Railroad was building their rail line west from Palestine to Austin. Early settlers came in 1873 when news spread about a possible new town along the line. The area sprang up as ‘Tent City.” By 1874 the Galveston News reported the town to be a bustling frontier settlement. On May 18, 1874 an election was held in which a majority of voters favored incorporation. In June or July the justice declared Rockdale as incorporated. On June 14, 1875 the city council under its first mayor, Alfred Bruck passed an ordinance to change the name from “town of Rockdale” to "City of Rockdale".
First City Hall
There were attempts in 1883 to build a city hall as a bond election provided $10,000 to erect a city hall and a public school. Architect F. E Ruffin of Austin prepared the plans. Sealed bids were called for but none were turned in. Work on the City Hall was set aside for later. It was not until 1894 that the council sought a location for City Hall. In February 1895, the city council signed an agreement with R. G. Scott of San Antonio and A. O. Watson, an Austin architect, to build the building. A lot at the corner of Cameron and Burleson Streets (40 x 125 feet) was selected and purchased from Leonard Isaacs.
By August 1895, work on the building had stopped due to difficulties in acquiring materials, working with subcontractors, acquiring locally made Rockdale Brick and lack of documented information. It is not clear the exact date that the building was completed.
On April 7, 1899, there was a contract let to make repairs to the City Hall. No mention is made in City Council minutes of a dedication or ceremony. (The local newspaper for this time period is not available)
The Cornerstone at the City Hall lists 1895 completion, but this date is in error. A survey of Sanborn maps gives a clearer picture of the situation. The Sanborn map shows a structure on the lot in 1896. It is marked “New City Hall, Unfinished Inside.” The next available Sanborn map is 1901. At this time it does show a building “New City Hall” (Sanborn Map, November 1901.) The cornerstone was undoubtedly laid as the structure was being built. It was laid by Rockdale Masonic Lodge.
The completed City Hall was more than a center for city government. It was large enough for social gatherings, school commencements and political meetings. The upstairs was the scene of dances, basketball games and all kinds of activity.
The City Hall served as home to the Rockdale Volunteer Fire Department for 80 years. The building retained its original structural lines until the 1930’s when the upstairs bell tower was removed. The upstairs was remodeled and floor space reduced significantly.
Current City Hall
In 2002, the City purchased a building on the corner of Wilcox and Cameron and moved the City Hall to this structure, leaving the original city building to house the Police Department.
Rockdale City Hall, by Lucile Estell, October 2005
Taken from : Rockdale Reporter, Cameron Herald, Rockdale Centennial Book, City of Rockdale Books B and C, Sanborn Maps, 1885, 1896, 1901. History of Social and Civics Clubs in Rockdale 1943, and Williamson, Roxanne, Watson, Arthur O, Handbook of Texas online assessed September 14, 2002.
Material gathered by: M. Joy Graham, January 25, 2011.
In 1952, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) located an aluminum processing plant and power generating plant near Rockdale. In 2008, the company significantly reduced the number of employees at the plant due to the global recession. At its zenith, the aluminum processing plant employed approximately 1500 persons.
Additional information can be found on the following websites:
- El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association
- I and GN Railroad Depot Museum
- Milam County Historical Commission
- Rockdale Historical Society
- Texas Historical Commission
View a pictorial gallery of Rockdale history on our website!