OUR HOMETOWN VISION 2040
EARLY 1800'S - 1890: THE FOUNDING OF ROCKWALL AND ROCKWALL COUNTY
Prior to the arrival of the first Anglo-American settlers, the land that makes up the present day City of Rockwall was occupied by various tribes of the Caddo Indians. The Caddo Indians were an agricultural-based people that used the rich black soil and surrounding springs to grow corn, squash, and beans.
On December 14, 1839, the Texas Congress established the National Road of the Texas Republic (also known as the Central Road and the Military Road), which was intended to connect established areas throughout the republic. On February 4, 1841, the Texas Congress enacted a law that allowed land to be granted to people who settled unclaimed public land. In January 1844, Charles Fenton Mercer was granted a contract by President Sam Houston to settle 100 families per year for five years. This later became known as the Mercer Colony. The boundaries of the colony extended from the present day cities of Waco, north to McKinney, and east of Dallas into the land that would become the City of Rockwall. According to documents from the Mercer Colony, the first Anglo-Americans to settle in what is now Rockwall County were Sterling Rex Barnes and the Heath family who arrived in 1846 and established homesteads near the crossing of the National Road of the Texas Republic.
Colonists continued to arrive and settle the area and in 1852, a Baptist Church was established to serve the population. Two years later in 1854, Elijah Elgin donated 40-acres of land on a hill east of the river overlooking the valley for the purpose of establishing a town. The community became known as Rockwall, with its name hailing from a strange geological formation discovered by a farmer digging a well. The formation resembled a rock wall, with its origins being attributed to both lost prehistoric tribes and natural geologic phenomena.
In 1855, the post office of which was located in the nearby community of Heath moved and reopened in Rockwall. During this time period, Rockwall served the surrounding cotton farming communities and contained services such as a blacksmith shop, grinding mill, church, general store, a (two story Masonic Lodge) and school.
From its founding, the City of Rockwall was the northernmost part of Kaufman County. However, area residents felt that the county seat of Kaufman was too inconvenient, and successfully led an effort to lobby the Texas legislature to create a new county. In 1873, Rockwall County was formed and the City of Rockwall became the county seat. The first county courthouse was a wood-frame building that was constructed at the northeast corner of the town square. The town was platted in a grid pattern following cardinal directions, with the main commercial district surrounding and immediately to the south of the courthouse square. This building, along with all its records, was destroyed by fire on March 16, 1878. The second courthouse was a two story wood-frame Italianate building designed by James Edward Flanders and constructed c. 1878. A second stone building was constructed on the courthouse grounds to house the City Secretary and county records. At the time of construction, the approximate cost of the courthouse and annex was $4,000.00. This buildings were located in the middle of the square and were utilized until they were destroyed by a fire on January 27, 1891.
Rockwall County remained a largely agrarian-based economy focusing on farming and cattle ranching through the end of the 1800’s. In 1886, the Greenville Railway -- which was later incorporated as the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (MKT) railroad system -- was constructed through Rockwall County, extending approximately one mile southeast of Rockwall’s courthouse. The arrival of the railroad elevated the town’s status as a shipping point for locally-cultivated cotton, wheat, and corn. The following year, the first passenger depot was constructed. Rockwall was not a regular passenger stop along this rail line; however, trains would stop for those who signaled. The arrival of the railroad and the designation of Rockwall as the county seat spurred growth in the community attracting residents from nearby communities (e.g. Heath and Blackland), establishing the town as a governmental and commercial hub. In 1890, the City had a population of approximately 1,000 residents and had three churches, a jail, a school, a weekly newspaper, and about a dozen various businesses.
1890 - 1920: GROWTH OF THE CITY
Rockwall continued to grow steadily during the remainder of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The area around the courthouse square remained the central commercial center of the community, and was finished out with mostly one and two story brick buildings. The increased sophistication of the design, materials, and methods of construction added to the sense of permanence and prosperity that the city experienced during this period. The advent of the rail service contributed to these trends, and the construction of the new courthouse in 1892 raised public awareness and appreciation for architectural design and construction. The courthouse was designed by Maximillian Anton Orlopp, Jr. and was a two story stone building designed in the Romanesque Revival style. The cost of the building was approximately $25,000.00 to build .
In 1893, Professor J. K. Wells resigned as the Superintendent of the Rockwall School District to establish Wells College -- also known as Rockwall College --, a private institution located at the southeast corner of Rusk Street and San Augustine Street. In 1908, a $25,000.00 bond was approved and issued for the construction of a new three story brick schoolhouse at the southwest corner of Fannin Street and Denison Street (the current location of City Hall). The new building served the first through eleventh grades, and was equipped with electricity, indoor plumbing, and an auditorium. This building continued to serve all grades until 1925, when a two story high school was constructed east of Clark Street on Rusk Street. This facility served grades eighth through eleventh.
In addition to public facilities, the City of Rockwall had a number of other industrial, commercial, and religious-based institutions. Highlighting the primarily agrarian-based economy, the City had three cotton gins, two lumberyards, a cotton oil company, a gristmill, and an ice company by 1911.
By 1923, the town had extended its corporate boundaries south to the MKT Railroad passenger depot and tracks, and one of the nation’s earliest and most important east-west transcontinental highways, the Bankhead Highway had extended through Rockwall.
The establishment of this highway in 1916 led to an influx of motorists to Rockwall and encouraged the development of gas stations, auto dealerships, and auto repair facilities along the route. In the City of Rockwall, the Bankhead Highway extended along Williams Street, Fannin Street, and Rusk Street.
1920 - 1945: THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND WORLD WAR II
The City’s population had reached 1,388 by 1926, after which time it began to stabilize. With the on-set of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, the population started to slightly decline. The county as a whole suffered during these years, starting in 1930 with a decline in farm values by 60%. During this period, the City’s commercial activity remained concentrated along the courthouse square. The City’s residential neighborhoods extended to the north, east, and south of the downtown area. In general, residential development in the City remained dispersed and rural, with the greatest concentration of non-retail commercial and industrial development remaining in the City’s southeast corner, in close proximity to the MKT Railroad.
The devastating effects of the Great Depression lingered throughout the region, and by 1940, approximately 16% of Rockwall County’s workforce remained unemployed. Partially in response to the high unemployment numbers and structural deficiencies of the current courthouse, Rockwall County Judge Mike Reinhardt sought funding for a new courthouse through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) program. This program was instituted in the 1930’s by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt to combat unemployment during the Great Depression. To secure funding, Judge Reinhardt traveled to Washington D. C. and petitioned lawmakers to obtain the Works Project grant for the courthouse construction. On January 19, 1940, the Judge was awarded a $52,000.00 grant that would go towards the complete construction cost of the courthouse, which totaled $92,000.00. Later that night, Judge Reinhardt came down with a case of acute pneumonia and died in the early morning hours of January 20, 1940 at Washington Hospital. However, with the grant secured, the old sandstone courthouse was razed in March 1941, and by December that same year the finishing touches on the new courthouse were complete. The new courthouse was designed by architects Voelcker and Dixon of Wichita Falls, utilizing an Art Deco architecture . This building remains at the center of the downtown square and was renovated in 2002.
1945 - 1980: POSTWAR GROWTH
After World War II, Rockwall experienced renewed development and rapid growth. In addition, the economy started a fundamental shift with the advent of the suburbs. In 1948, it was estimated that 1/3 of the county’s workforce commuted to jobs in Dallas. This helped transition Rockwall from a rural county to a part of the greater Dallas metropolitan area.
To address rapid residential growth during the late 1940’s, the Rockwall School District consolidated over 20 smaller schools into the Rockwall Independent School District (RISD) in 1947. The purpose of this undertaking was to improve education in the public school system. To handle the growing number of children in the education system, the school district constructed a new elementary school in the fall of 1950.
In 1953, Richard Pickens started the Texas Aluminum Company, and opened the Aluminum Plant along W. Washington Street. This was the second large-scale industrial operation established in the City of Rockwall, and would eventually grow to employ ~600 people in 1965. During its early years the plant produced hard aluminum alloy extrusions -- some of which were used to build B-52 bombers for the US Military --; however, the plant later shifted to making soft aluminum alloy in the 1970’s. In 1979, the then owner -- Howmet -- added a slab casting facility. Ultimately, the plant operated as both an extrusion and casting facility until 1984 when Alumax Aluminum purchased the facility. Alumax Aluminum added powder coating to the operation, and at one point this facility was the largest extrusion powder coat line in the United States. The facility continued operations until 1988, when it was closed and was offered for sale. Today, a portion of the facility still exists along with the original foundations of the buildings built in 1953.
In 1959, Interstate Highway 30 or IH-30 -- the successor of the Bankhead Highway -- was constructed through Rockwall County. The highway was approximately 1½-miles south of the downtown square, allowing traffic to by-pass the city center. With these improvements and the shift to a more automobile centric community, the MKT Railroad closed its passenger depot in the mid-1950’s. In addition, the completion of IH-30 spurred growth for both residential and commercial land uses south of the downtown.
The years between 1960 and 1980 saw great change for both Rockwall and Rockwall County, as the area increasingly became a bedroom community of Dallas. In 1969, Lake Ray Hubbard was constructed along the western boundary of the town. During the construction process, the City of Dallas hired Marvin Springer, a land planner, to create a plan for roadway improvements and public access to the lake. The design concepts used by Mr. Springer were similar to the concepts used around White Rock Lake; the plan became known as the Springer Plan. However, the City of Rockwall never adopted the plan, opting to push for single-family subdivisions to line the shoreline of the lake. Regardless, the construction of the lake proved to be a boon for the local economy and its surrounding communities. Employment in the area tripled and the City’s population almost doubled in the same period.
1980 - PRESENT: THE END OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY AND BEGINNING OF THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY
The period between 1980 and 2000 saw some of the greatest growth for the City of Rockwall with the population growing almost 300% to 17,976 residents. The population as of the 2010 census was 37,000 residents, an increase of 106% between 2000 and 2010.
In 2005, the City of Rockwall broke ground on the Harbor Retail District, a 12.67-acre mixed retail, office, and restaurant development that overlooks Lake Ray Hubbard. Two years later, the Hilton Hotel and Resort was constructed south of the Harbor Retail, providing resort amenities along with an ~11,800 SF ballroom, a 52-seat amphitheater, and ten break out rooms with the ability to seat 50-attendees each .
In 2009, the City of Rockwall added to the district, establishing a plan for a ~75.87-acre mixed residential, retail, and office district north of the Harbor Retail District. This district was intended to provide a walkable mixed-use environment along the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard. Development in this area has also served as the eastern gateway of the City from IH-30. Recently, this district has started to take shape with nearly all of the 1,161 urban condominiums being entitled and under construction.
More recently, the City of Rockwall completed the Downtown Capital Improvement Projects, which included retro-fitting the existing downtown sidewalks to make them ADA compliant, adding ADA ramps and crossings, incorporating decorative planters and landscape and hardscape elements, narrowing the streets to promote traffic calming, and adding additional decorative lighting to increase nighttime visibility. In addition, the City added an additional 136 parking spaces to the downtown area through the construction of six (6) public parking lots. However, perhaps the greatest achievement of this $8.6 million bond package was the creation of San Jacinto Plaza, which is a pedestrian mall created from the existing San Jacinto Street. This element of downtown incorporates a stage area, public seating/tables, decorative lighting and landscaping.
Today the City of Rockwall remains a vibrant bedroom community of Dallas, as well as a thriving recreational, heritage tourism and retail destination. The City also continues to be a regional job creator as the Rockwall Economic Development Corporation (REDC) continues to successfully recruit new businesses into the City. Moving forward the City of Rockwall is expected to continue to grow in a steady and controlled manner, and provide the small town character that its residents currently enjoy.