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"THE COUNTRY DEPOT"

Excerpt  By Bert L. Dockall

In the 19th century when the railroad was far more important than it is today, only the iron rails linked many communities. There were relatively few villages in the U.S. that did not have a railroad station. At night, the gleam of a locomotive headlight across the rolling hills was a star of hope, a lighthouse beacon. It told the settlers that they were not alone. No wonder the depot was a social center. Folks assembled there to bid good bye to a departing guest or a member of a household starting out on a trip, or to greet someone arriving by train. Besides travelers, it brought news, mail, and merchandise.

Watches were set by the station clock, although, legend says it was by the locomotive's whistle. Telegrams, before the telephone, were dispatched and received at the depot. It was a scene of continuous activity, even outside of train time. Employees and train crews were, of course, the essential elements in the picture. At the smallest one-man depot, the station agent took care of everything- Selling tickets, handling baggage, kept the stove going, and doing dozens of other necessary jobs. Usually, he was the telegraph operator too, handling train orders as well as public telegrams. If the station was a "combination", one with space for freight, handling such shipments would also be part of his work.

The depot itself was once a center of both economic and social life in the community. It was probably the first thing noticed by new arrivals, and a part of their first impression. The depot was a reflection of the local culture and economy, the surrounding natural environment, and the requirements of railroad technology.

The I&GN Rockdale Depots

In 1873 the International and Great Northern railroad had decided to extend their railroad westward from Hearne to Austin. It was decided to build this line in two segments: Hearne to Rockdale to Austin. In 1874, construction west from Hearne began. Rockdale, twenty-eight miles distant, was reached late that same year. No further construction was done until 1876 when Austin was reached. During the two-year period that Rockdale was the end of the line.     A great amount of business was handled for cities west of here.

After completing the line, the I&GN constructed two wooden depots--one for handling freight and the other for passengers. The first passenger depot was located on the South side of Milam Street between Ackerman and Green Streets. Also, the first freight depot was located on the South side of Milam where Main Street now crosses the tracks. In those days Main Street ended at Milam. As time passed, Rockdale and the I&GN grew and prospered. Soon the original two depots could not meet the needs of the new town. In 1889 a new red brick freight depot was built on the South side of Milam at Burleson Street. At this time the old freight depot was dismantled.

In 1906 a new passenger depot was constructed on the comer of Main and Milam

Streets. As indicated by the Rockdale Reporter, the citizens had been awaiting this new depot for quite a few years. When the new depot was completed the old passenger depot was dismantled. The new depot, also constructed of red brick, was a beautiful building. It had a fancy cupola that offered folks an unobstructed view of the countryside. To the rear of the building was located the baggage room that stored baggage, small freight shipments, and mail.

In 1925 the I&GN was leased by the Missouri Pacific RR. The I&GN was operated as a division of the M.P. RR until 1956, at which time it was fully merged into the M.P. Lines. That officially ended the use of the I&GN name. Over the years the passenger depot was remodeled several times. The beautiful red brick exterior was given a coat of light-yellow paint in an effort to spruce it up. In 1936 a new roof was added, and at this time it is believed the cupola was removed in an effort to reduce maintenance cost, however the exact date is not known.

Business was good at both depots. In the 1930's, the railroad had on its payroll an agent, a cashier, a baggage man, and two porters. Six passenger trains as well as numerous freight trains serviced the depot daily. One of the finest trains in the country "The Sunshine Special" served Rockdale, offering area residents the finest travel accommodations.

By the early 1960's, both freight and passenger business at the Rockdale station had fallen to a level that made operation of separate freight and passenger depots uneconomical. The Missouri Pacific decided to consolidate separate operations into one building. At this time, the brick freight station and platform were retired and dismantled. Prior to the move, the passenger station was remodeled for the last time under railroad ownership.

In 1957 Mr. Oscar M. Brockmann moved to Rockdale to replace Mr. C.W. Stephens, the former agent. By this time, the agent's position was the only job left at the depot. He was destined to be the last person to occupy that post. Passenger trains had been reduced to four a day.

In 1967, the United States Post Office cancelled the mail contract with the railroad. Also, the Railway Post Office car was pulled off the Eagle, thus marking the end of an era for the depot. Ninety-three years of handling the mail to and from Rockdale had come to an end.

In 1970, the Missouri Pacific came up with a plan that eventually spelled the end to many small-town Texas depots, including the Rockdale Station. The plan was to have a mobile agent. Despite some opposition, the Texas Railroad Commission eventually gave their approval. At the close of business on July 15, 1970, Mr. Brockmann closed and locked the depot for the last time. He then began his well-earned retirement. He had been employed by the l&GN since 1923 and had worked at many stations up and down the line.

After the depot closure, the few passengers who wanted to ride the Eagle had to purchase their tickets from the conductor on the train. This arrangement did not last long because the Texas Eagle was discontinued on September 21, 1970. Train No. 2 departed Rockdale at 4:50 pm thus ending 96 years of passenger service to Rockdale.

In late 1970 Adolph McVoy, a Rockdale businessman, purchased the old depot from the Missouri Pacific. He used the building for the storage of animal feed and fertilizer until sold.

 

BERT L. DOCKALL

May 2008

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