History

Top o’ the Hill Country in Rocksprings, Texas

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Rocksprings is a wonderful little town on the western edge of our Texas Hill Country map. Established a little later than most Hill Country towns, and without ever attracting too much attention, Rocksprings has matured into the prototypical rural county seat, with little traffic, friendly people, and buildings from a mostly bygone era.

Top o' the Hill Country

Photo: Wikipedia

The “rock springs” which give the town its name (it used to be two words, but was changed to one word in 1897) were well known to travelers, freighters, cattlemen and outlaws for years before the town was founded. W.J. Greer set up a sheep camp in the area in 1882; Francis Winan established a cattle and sheep ranch in 1884, and A.O. Burr began farming nearby in 1885.

But the actual town came to be when J.R. Sweeten dug a well in 1889 to serve new settlers. In 1891, he began selling lots, and soon there were enough residents to open a post office and become the new county seat. The courthouse was built later that year.

By 1892, Rocksprings had 250 residents, including a blacksmith, a doctor, a real estate agent, a druggist and two lawyers. There was a hotel, a general store and two saloons. that year, Mr. Sweeten donated two acres of land for a community cemetery. In 1895, the county contracted for the building of a jail on the corner of the square (it’s still there).

Top o' the Hill Country

Photo: Wikipedia

A fire gutted the courthouse in 1897, but the county rebuilt the damaged building. Also that year, the official name of the town was changed from Rock Springs to Rocksprings. In 1898, the Rocksprings Telephone company was formed. The town garnered some unflattering publicity in 1910, when a murder suspect named Antonio Rodriguez was lynched, but the little town continued to grow, and by 1914, the population had reached 500. By then, the town also had its first bank; the new Gilmer Hotel was built in 1916.

Disaster struck the thriving little town in 1927 in the form of a devastating tornado. Seventy-two people were killed, making it the third-most deadly storm in Texas history, and more than 200 were injured as the tornado destroyed 235 of the 247 buildings in the town at the time. The courthouse and the Gilmer Hotel were damaged, but remained standing; both buildings served as shelters for those whose homes had been destroyed. Even so, the population reached nearly 1,000 by 1931.

Top o' the Hill Country

Photo: Wikipedia

Edwards County had become the world’s leading producer of mohair by 1940, and while the demand for mohair has weakened in recent years, sheep and angora goats are still very important to the area’s economy. The Angora Goat Breeders Association Museum and the Texas Mohair Weekly are both located in Rocksprings, and each May, the town celebrates its #1 status in a “Top-o-the-World” festival to honor mohair and wool producers.

Hunting, fishing, and eco-tourism have become very important to the town’s economy, and the amazing “Devil’s sinkhole” is the leading local attraction. A bus takes visitors seven miles north of the Visitors Center on the square for guided tours of the natural phenomenon, a cave descending 150 feet in a sheer drop. The state of Texas has purchased 40,000 acres around the sinkhole for a wildlife preserve; the recently-opened Kickapoo Caverns State Park is another attraction, located on the southern edge of Edwards County. the courthouse is on the state list for renovation through the Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. There are several interesting places on the square in addition to the Visitors Center, including Rocksprings Gallery, the Texas Miniature Museum and the Historic Rocksprings Hotel (formerly the Gilmer Hotel). There are several options for dining, lodging, and shopping.