Rockwall, from its high ground commanding the eastern shore of Lake Ray Hubbard on the East Fork of the Trinity, began life as a twelve-mile-long panhandle of Kaufman County. That was shortly after the flag of the Republic of Texas was lowered for the last time, and when the legislature of 1848 created Kaufman County. Then in 1873, the year the Texas & Pacific Railway built westward across Kaufman County on its way from Longview to Dallas, settlers in the “panhandle” decided to secede from Kaufman County and set up a county of their own.
“It was a friendly secession,” says O. L. Steger, Sr., County historian, “and no blood was shed in effecting it.” Steger, a native of the county, was born October 14, 1888, has topped off a remarkable record of public and community service by his writing and recent publication of a book, History of Rockwall County: 1842-1968, which supplements and expands the history of Rockwall County written in 1906 by the late E. C. Heath, former Rockwall County judge, state representative from the flotorial district, and longtime business and civic leader of the county. “Rockwall County was set up to make it more convenient for settlers along the East Fork of the Trinity to attend to their county business,” Steger adds, Prime movers, he says, were C. L. Gill and John O. Heath, the latter the father of E. C. Heath and one of the founders of Kaufman County. John Heath had settled near what is today the town of Heath, which was named for him.
The town of Rockwall had been laid out in 1854 by a somewhat restless frontiersman by the name of Elijah Elgin, Neither he nor any other member of his family remained long in either the county or town. The town of Black Hill was the first in Kaufman County to have a post office, with John O. Heath named its first postmaster in 1849. Upon the establishment of Rockwall, Heath transferred the post office there.
Rockwall got its name from the geological structure that lies five to ten feet underground not far west of the courthouse square. It looks like a massive man-made wall with large, well-cut, and perfectly laid stones. It was first uncovered by pioneers digging a water well, among whom was T. U. Wade, the first to suggest the name of Rockwall for the community.
For many decades the exposed section of the rock “wall” on a farm near the city attracted thousands of visitors from distant places and provided the tangible basis of Rockwall’s fame. Some twenty-five or thirty years ago some helpful friends of Rockwall hired a team of geological experts from the University of Texas to make a study and report on whether the wall was the work of people of some prehistoric civilization or merely a freak of Mother Nature. Nature won.
Besides the new lake, which will assure a water supply for more than a million people in Greater Dallas through the year 1999, Dallas’s most obvious link with our neighboring county is the Barnes Bridge Road, which extends from East Dallas through Garland, Mesquite, and Sunnyvale to present Lake Ray Hubbard. This major thoroughfare gets its name from Sterling R. Barnes, one of the first settlers in what is now Rockwall County. Before the Civil War he moved to Heath where he bought the ferry rights of a man named Goodman over the East Fork of the river (near the present dam). There Barnes built a toll bridge under a charter from the state. Barnes Bridge was long the main means of crossing the East Fork of the Trinity for thousands of immigrants to the Dallas area and beyond.
Along with the names of Barnes, Heath, Steger, Boydstun, and other pioneer Rockwall families is that of the Wades, one of whom, H. M. Wade, was the father of Dallas County’s noted district attorney, Henry Wade. The father was long a leading member of the bar and served for eight years as Rockwall county attorney and six years as Rockwall county judge.
Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam Acheson. Image courtesy Rockwall County Historical Foundation.