Round Rock is located sixteen miles north of downtown Austin on Interstate 35 in south central Williamson County. It was founded on the north side of Brushy Creek, when Jacob M. Harrell, a former Austin blacksmith, opened up the business in the spring of 1848. Brushy Creek was the initial name given to the settlement. Postal officials urged Thomas C. Oatts, the town’s first postmaster, to offer another name, and on August 24, 1854, the town officially became Round Rock, as suggested by Oatts and Harrell, who sometimes fished together from a big anvil-shaped limestone rock in Brushy Creek near their residences. The Chisholm Trail, used by early cattle drivers on their trip to Kansas, crossed Brushy Creek near Round Rock.
In 1843, Washington Anderson established himself a little distance east of the old Round Rock and erected a gristmill, which was destroyed by a flood in 1845. A subsequent mill was built west of the round rock, close to the current low-water bridge and dam. A wool-carding plant opened nearby during the Civil War, and a gin was built in the 1870s. Greenwood Masonic Institute, a three-story edifice, opened in 1867 and was run by the Masonic Lodge until 1881 when it was taken over by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Round Rock Institute was called after them. It burned down on April 9, 1883, and a new two-story edifice was built on College Hill in its place. This structure was destroyed by fire in 1913. Local residents managed the school until it was turned over to public schools in 1888.
When the International-Great Northern Railroad was established in Williamson County in 1876, the rails were located just south and east of Round Rock. The settlement began to relocate toward the railroad and the south bank of Brushy Creek, first establishing a tent city known as the “new” Round Rock. The old location was mostly abandoned and was referred to in government documents as Old Round Rock. Since 1970, the town has grown in every direction, and the so-called Old Town, which consists of a few restored limestone structures, is now surrounded by the rest of the city.
Within one year of the railroad’s arrival, the town had twelve enterprises and professional offices, numerous hotels, a new broom factory, William Walsh’s lime plant, and two short-lived newspapers. The success of the town lured bandit Sam Bass to the region in 1878, and his arrest and death in a firefight that year are celebrated annually during the town’s Frontier Days event. The Round Rock Searchlight was established in 1879. This newspaper changed its name to the Round Rock Leader in 1896 and was still in print in the 1990s. Trinity Lutheran College was founded in the town in 1906, and in 1929 it amalgamated with the Lutheran College of Seguin. The Round Rock Cheese Factory first opened its doors in 1928 and remained in business until the early 1970s.
Round Rock had a populace of 1,000 to 1,400 people in the first 6 decades of the 20th century. In the 1960s, the town began to flourish and became the location of extensive historic restoration and preservation efforts. The 1970s saw significant expansion as adjacent Austin boomed, bringing large-scale construction to Round Rock. The town grew into a bedroom neighborhood for Austin as well as a manufacturing and industrial center. Its population increased from 2,811 to 11,812 between 1970 and 1980. In the 1980s, the city expanded further, being home to various computer-related enterprises and over 300 retail shops. The population was 30,923 in 1990.
Historical Round Rock, Texas, by Jane H. DiGesualdo and Karen R. Thompson (Austin: Eakin Press, 1985). Land of Good Water: A Williamson County History, by Clara Stearns Scarbrough (Georgetown, Texas: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973). Vertical Files, University of Texas at Austin’s Barker Texas History Center.