On a map of Texas, draw a line from Austin to Waco. Now draw a line from Waco to Bryan/College Station and from that point on the Brazos, draw the third side of the triangle back to Austin.
Take your index finger -- either hand -- and place it in the center of the triangle you have drawn.
Right there, at the intersection of US77 and US79, you will have located Rockdale, Texas.
Founded on February 4, 1874 by George Green, B. F. Ackerman, and Frank Smith, on right-of-way belonging to the International-Great Northern Railroad, the town was named for a local rock, that was twelve feet high with a circumference of twenty feet...
I personally never saw this particular rock, but there certainly were a great number of its relatives in the area.
...Rockdale was incorporated in 1887, and within a decade of founding, had a population of 1,700 with five churches, two schools, two steam-powered gristmill-cotton gins, an opera house (with seats for 250), a private bank, a weekly newspaper, and more. As the first major railroad town in Milam County, Rockdale brought prosperity to the area's farmers, supplying them with a shipping point for their products and a supply point for their needs.
As the years passed, Rockdale became an energy hub. South and west of town a low grade coal -- lignite -- field broke the surface of the ground. This lignite exists in a sloping band from that point all the way to the gulf coast. It would be mined by various methods, such that by 1914, 7000 railroad cars of lignite were being shipped from the mines each week.
Lignite was displaced in the marketplace when, in 1920, an oilfield was discovered near Rockdale. An oil refinery was build outside of town. The growth of the oil and natural gas industry over the next twenty (20) years, led to the cessation of mining activities in the area by 1940.
In 1951, the Aluminum Company of America announced its intention to build an aluminum smelting facility just west of Rockdale, where it would take advantage of the area's dormant lignite supplies to generate electricity for the extraction of the lightweight metal. Within 13 months of breaking ground for the smelter and the lignite fired - steam powered electrical plant, Rockdale was on the move again; its population more than doubling by 1958, to 6300 people...
My father, just graduated from Texas Tech with his Mechanical Engineering Degree in hand, and a wife and two kids in tow, arrived in 1954. I was two years-old and would not stray far from Rockdale for the next twenty years.
...Rockdale laid claim to the title of "Small Town With a Home-Sweet-Home Atmosphere
And A Future As Big As Texas."
By 1970, the ALCOA plant had more than doubled in capacity, and had added an aluminum powdering process that would provide the base propellant for the solid boosters that assist the Space Shuttle into low earth orbit.
Today ALCOA is closing their smelting operations due to the depressed price of aluminum, and the inflated price of power. The oil boom topped out and busted in the early 1980's. Lignite has regained its place as a viable source of energy.
Rockdale's population has leveled out in the 4500 persons range. And it has a McDonalds, a Pizza Hut and Wal-Mart...
Rockdale was about as far from the mainstream of American life as it was possible to be, in the 1960's; at least that was my perception.
With three channels on a black and white television, a weekly local paper and LIFE magazine, my life in Rockdale was unfulfilling, boring. The radio stations were dim with static regarding the larger world; loud and clear with hog futures, agricultural news and common sense presented by poorly voiced fictional philosophers. The main topic of discussion amongst my peers concerned where we would go when we "got the chance" ...the places we would see, and the things we would do.
It was so unfair to be "trapped" in the unrealized comfort of that small Texas town. There had to be more to life than mowing lawns, yelling at the dog when he chased cars, sitting in the cool coastal burmuda grass under an oak tree on a summer morning reading "Johnny Tremaine." More than the politics of little league baseball, adolescent separation of the genders, after school cruising, and learning that a bully can never accept you as a friend, or exclude you as a victim. More than that special day when the new cars were on display at the local dealerships; so what if I was only thirteen and the license to drive was still at least two years away ...that didn't mean I couldn't dream, did it? I knew in my heart, that just a change of location would eliminate all the tedium, loneliness and boredom that was a daily part of my life.
My Grandfather said, "You should be careful about what you wish for."
I missed so much being trapped in Rockdale, Texas. I missed surfing, having long hair, living on the street, or in a commune, protest rallies, going to the Fillmore ...I missed Woodstock! although I did see Arlo Guthrie on The Tonight Show telling everyone that "the New York State Freeway is closed, man." And the night I graduated from high school, I saw the movie... at the Paramount in Austin.
Even as I went away to college, I was tied to home. And it was only in 1974, when my father accepted a transfer from ALCOA, and I graduated from Texas A&M, that Rockdale was no longer the place I was destined to be ...and my life has been less the richer for this.
It is only now, almost thirty (30) years later that I can realize what I lost ...and what I gained from that place I did not want to be.
I miss those black crickets that took over the town for two or three weeks every year. I miss getting lost in the woods less than a hundred yards from my house. I miss having "my house" ...it seemed so big then, and so small when I last saw it twenty (20) years later. I miss housing without air conditioning; and while this is no longer normal even in Rockdale, I now live where it is very common. I miss being able to hear a single car at midnight, three blocks away, and watching its headlights march across the ceiling of my bedroom as it came up the hill.
I now live in the constant drone of traffic, night and day, at work just below the sound of the air conditioning and the radio I run to moderate that noise. At home a few trees knock some the traffic sounds down but they are still there, especially on those nights when sleep includes open windows.
I miss the quiet that lets you hear a single dog bark on the other side of town, and morning sleep that is not interrupted by leaf blowers and sirens. I miss living with people who know what Wolf Brand Chili, Steen's Pure Cane Syrup, Blue Bell Ice Cream and Fabacher Brew are. I miss people who understand "fixinto" and "ya'll" without question. I miss stopping my car in the middle of the street to talk to my neighbor, without being interrupted. I miss the early morning scramble to light the furnace pilot and find the extra blankets, because the first winter norther has just arrived. I miss knowing my neighbors and their knowing me. I miss "bedtime" that allowed the grownups to have time together; and I miss the sound of dominoes and laughing voices disturbing that slumber. I miss believing that every town had fluoridated water. I miss knowing I had work anytime I wanted it, at the hardware store, or the movie theatre, or the newspaper. I miss knowing that every high school had an auditorium; not a common room, or basketball court with a stage ...a dark, quiet, cool, auditorium. I miss peers who are "delinquent" because they smoke cigarettes, or drink beer at parties at the river, or stay out cruising until midnight.
I miss my friends, known and unknown, real and imagined.
Famous residents include:
- "ROCKDALE, TX" The Handbook of Texas Online :: http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/RR/hfr8.html
- "Rockdale, Texas - A Brief History" :: http://www.rtis.com/reg/rockdale/history.htm
- "A History of Rockdale, Texas 1874 - 1974" :: http://www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/tx/milam/rockdale/toc.htm