A LITTLE ABOUT US
The Rockdale Historical Society was founded in 1998 with the vision of restoring the I&GN Depot and utilizing it as a museum to preserve, store, and share local and central Texas railroad history.
Under the stipulations of the Texas Historical Commission, and with the help of funding from local citizens, Alcoa Aluminum Company, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the depot was purchased from Mr. Adolf McVoy in 1999. Clean up and restoration began in 2000 and took more than 8 years to complete, almost entirely with volunteer efforts.
Loyal member Gary Jackson undertook the painstaking task of recreating and constructing the original cupola which was reinstalled atop the depot. He accomplished this with little more than antique photos of the original 1906 depot, and dimensions of the roof structure to work with. An incredible feat, which helped to restore the depot's historic integrity and beauty. This task was completed in line with the renovation of the building, and with the help of several local businesses.
During the restoration process another dedicated member, railroad engineer, and lifetime Rockdale resident Bert Dockall, spearheaded the acquisition of a Missouri Pacific Caboose, and Missouri Pacific Dining Car named "The Cheyenne Mountain." These were relocated and placed on rails behind the depot building, and over time restored as close as possible to their initial specifications.
Glen Banzhaf, retired signalman and volunteer, facilitated the installation of two working railroad signals on the property. Louie Edelmon, a volunteer skilled in many trades, assisted in the restoration of several key signs, SA&AP depot bench, and notably, the RS&S bell.
These names are a few among many who have poured heart and soul into the mission stated at our organization's inception. Pat Jackson has volunteered her time and intellect as Treasurer for over 18 years. Through the ebbs and flows of life, economy, volunteers, and circumstance we continue to endeavor to preserve history and share enrichment for our residents, and those who travel through our town.
"THE COUNTRY DEPOT"
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 indicted 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