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In the beginning, Round Rock was “Brushy,” and it was located a few miles to the east of what is now downtown Round Rock. Ironically, the round rock which was later to give its name to the city, is located at the foot of what was (and still is) the main road through Brushy. The rock was a way marker on an ancient Native-American trail, and later for the Chisholm Trail, marking a natural fjord over the creek. It was here, along the trail that Round rock had her beginnings. It wasn’t until the International & Great Northern Railroad passed through the area, a bit south, in 1876 that the town moved east to its current downtown location. At that time, the old settlement became known as “Old Town.”
In the spring of 1848, Austin’s first blacksmith, Jacob M. Harrell, first purchased land in the area (about 4500 acres) to grown corn, and a few years later decided to move his family and business to the north bank of Brush Creek, perhaps thinking that the wanglers and others moving along the Chisholm Trail would increase his blacksmith and butcher business Jacob and his brother, James, had a blacksmith shop and butcher pen along Waller Creek in Austin near where 12th street now crosses the creek). Even after moving to what became Brushy, his business and political ties remained in Austin. The fjord served not only as a low water crossing, but also as a resting place for the herds and herders. In the summer of that year, Williamson County’s first school was established in a log cabin two miles southwest near Moss Spring between Brushy and McNeil. Following this another log cabin school was established north of Brushy Creek. The first school was more than likely built by brother James, while Jacob, along with Dr. D. F. Knight, built the one closer to his home. In 1848 the Harrell brothers petitioned the Texas Legislature for the separation of a new county to be named “Clearwater.” The petition was granted; however, the county was named “Williamson” in honor of Major Robert “Three Legged Willie” McAlpin Williamson of the Texas Rangers. The bothers went on to serve in various capacities in county government.
Much of the Jacob Harrell estate was platted into town blocks along the north banks of Brushy Creek, to become the town of Bushy . Among the first purchasers of these lots was Thomas C. Oatts. On June 10, 1850, Mary Harrell sold a tract of land for $30.00, where in 1853, Mr. Oatts constructed a log store followed by the construction of the stone store building and home (St. Charles Hotel). What is today called the “Quick House” on Chisholm Trail, south of Brushy Creek, was constructed by unknown builders around 1853 and is located on the land that Jacob Harrell sold to Thomas Oatts. The original house contained two rooms and a fireplace and is built of stones from Brushy Creek The ceilings are 11 foot high and the walls are 15 inches thick. Just south of Brushy Creek, near the Quick House, John Harris constructed his inn for the stagecoach.
On May 27, 1851 the Brushy Post Office was established in a portion of the Harris store, Thomas C. Oatts, Postmaster. As there was at the time, another “Brushy” in Texas the post office asked Mr. Oatt to come up with a substitute name. The name chosen was “Round Rock” in recognition of the role the round rock in the middle of Brushy Creek played in the history of the area. The name choice might also have had to do with the fact that Mr. Oatts and John Harrell happened to spend much time fishing from the rock. Brushy officially became Round Rock on August 24, 1854, although to many, it remained “Brushy.” The mail was delivered by a private company that carried mail between San Antonio and Memphis, TN, passing through Austin, Round Rock, Georgetown, Waco and Dallas. The mail coach, two “horse hacks,” made two, and later three, trips a week in each direction.
The first church service in the area was in December 1847 at the home of Freeman Smalley. On January 12, 1854, the Anti-Slave Holding Union Baptist Church purchased property for a church. The two-story church, built by Baptists and Presbyterians opened in 1855. The upper story had an outside staircase leading to the Masonic Lodge on the second floor. The first floor sanctuary had two doors, one for men and one for women and children. People were summoned for services, weddings, funeral, and masonic meetings by a bell hanging in a nearby tree.
T.C. Thomas opened his wheat mill along the creek in 1856, the same year that Round Rock was first included on Texas Land Office Maps. Houses and businesses began to be erected on the north shore of Brushy Creek. H. B. Sheppard opened his store in the winter of 1860. In 1866, the G.W. “Walsh” Davis and the L. Mays’ stores were opened. In the same year, licenses to sell limited amount of liquor were granted to Alex McFarland and S. H. Rutledge.
Some time in the early 1860s land was purchased to build the Round Rock Academy. It is believed, but not certain, that the Greenwood Masonic Institute, which opened in 1867, was a continuation of the academy (in the same building). The Institute later became Round Rock College. The Institute’s new building built in 1883 burned down in 1913. In 1869 Henry Harris opened another store. Much to the dismay of local residents, the State Legislature, in 1863 outlawed alcohol sales within three miles of the store.
By 1870, Round Rock (what is now Old Town) had a wool carding machine, several mills and a factory that included, an stagecoach inn, a hotel, a gristmill, a wool carding mill, and a gin mill, all under one roof. In December of 1870 Nathanial Q. Henderson began the Round Rock Sentinel. However, in 1872, Henderson moved to Georgetown taking the paper with him. Other businesses included an insurance company, several blacksmiths, a wagon shop, book seller, saddle shop, a tombstone maker, a dry goods store and “receiving house,” and the John Kirkpatrick Restaurant.
After the coming of the I&GN in 1876, for a while both Round Rocks appeared on Texas maps, as “Old Town Round Rock: and “New Town Round Rock.” On December 16, 1891, the Old Town Post Office was shut down. By then, most of Old Town had been abandoned. Not much happened in Old Town until middle of the twentieth-century when people began to take an interest in restoring the old stone buildings. The main street Old Town was officially named “Chisholm Trail.”
Walking Tour (downloadable pdf file)
Williamson County Museum — Chisholm Trail Location
Williamson County Museum — Georgetown Location (Main Location)
Chisholm Trail Historic Sites (City of Round Rock Site)
St. Charles Hotel & Harris Store (Owen House)
Round Rock Historic Images