RAILROADS, A TOURIST CAMP AND A HISTORIC TRAIL
High drama began in this area during the 1690s when Spain began using known American Indian trade routes as their thoroughfare from the Rio Grande to Los Adaes (Louisiana). That trail is now known as El Camino Real de Los Tejas National Historic Trail and Rockdale is a jumping off point for a local tour route that includes three 18th Century Spanish mission sites, the San Gabriel River crossing at Apache Pass, and the natural landmark of Sugarloaf Mountain. Just follow the brown highway signs to the sites.
Tracking more recent history will take you to the award winning restoration of the 1906 I&GN Railroad Depot and Museum in downtown Rockdale. Dressed in cherry-red brick and topped with a graceful cupola the museum and grounds showcase memorabilia, a model railroad, dining car, caboose, and replica blacksmith’s shop. In 1874, the International & Great Northern Railroad laid tracks through Rockdale and the community grew as a shipping and supply point for agricultural products and lignite coal. Later, lignite took a back seat to oil and gas energy. Then, in 1952, the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) began using lignite to fuel aluminum production at its Rockdale plant.
There’s always something happening in town, look for the quarterly Market Days and the must-see Tejas Art and Book Festival in March that always features celebrated regional authors. Treat yourself to an overnight stay, as playwright Tennessee Williams did in the 1930s, at Rainbow Courts, an lovely property with cozy modern rooms that can trace its roots to the 1918 “tourist camp.”