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‘Rockin’ Robert returns at 97

Builder of town’s iconic rock house, San Gabriel School, proud of work
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor


Robert Cummings was one of two stone masons who laid rocks in 1937 for what is now the Chamber of Commerce office. 
Reporter/Mike Brown Robert Cummings was one of two stone masons who laid rocks in 1937 for what is now the Chamber of Commerce office. Reporter/Mike Brown When Robert Cummings builds something, it stays built. Exhibit A: Rockdale’s landmark Rock House, constructed in 1937 and still going strong as the Chamber of Commerce office.

Exhibit B: The San Gabriel School. While the school district itself may be long gone, its old rock school still stands straight as ever in the community for which it is named.

Exhibit C: Bastrop State Park’s rock clubhouse at the park golf course. Flames may have swept over it in last summer’s devastating fires but Cummings’ rock structure still stands.

The 97-year-old visited Rockdale last week, delighting Chamber of Commerce staffers and history buffs who gathered in “his” old rock house to enjoy some living history. CELEBRITY—Cummings is something of a celebrity aside from his life’s work. He and twin brother, Roy C. Cummings, have been certified as the oldest twins in Texas.


Robert Cummings carved this heart-shaped stone which made its way into the San Gabriel School. He also carved his initials, and those of future wife Aline Faulkner, into the stone. 
Photo courtesy Dr. Lucile Estell Robert Cummings carved this heart-shaped stone which made its way into the San Gabriel School. He also carved his initials, and those of future wife Aline Faulkner, into the stone. Photo courtesy Dr. Lucile Estell He resides in Georgetown’s Mariposa Apartment Homes, as does former Rockdale resident Charlene Magee, who met Cummings there, was thrilled to learn of his contribution to Rockdale history and brought him to town last week.

The master stone mason later became a brick mason and enjoyed a long and successful career as a builder in the Dallas area. But his roots lie in the 1930s, in the depths of the Great Depression, when he was taught to lay stone in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

“I was working in Bastrop, building some structures in the state park, when they started the San Gabriel School,” he said. “So I came to Milam County.”

“As I recall, the school board in San Gabriel ran out of money,” Cummings said. “So I went looking for another job and H. H. Coffield in Rockdale hired me to build this rock house.”

“Back then there was petrified wood all over the place in Rockdale,” he recalled. “You could just go around and pick it up. Of course I didn’t do that. I was in the building part.”

Cummings said he was one of two stone masons who laid the stone for the rock house, while two carpenters did the framing.

“It took about 6 to 8 months to complete,” he said. “We made pretty good money for those days.”

Cummings is unable to recall the name of the other stone mason who worked on the rock house.

The house was used as a residence for many decades before becoming the Chamber office in 1995.

MEXIA—Once the rock house was complete, Cummings did what most skilled craftsmen did during that era, he moved on.

“The mayor of Mexia hired me to work on some buildings for a city park,” he said. “So that’s where I went next.”

He has been back to Rockdale a few times over the years. Cummings had some relatives in the area and a brother is buried in a South Milam rural cemetery.

Cummings settled in Allen, a northern suburb of Dallas, just in time to get in on the building boom which was to result in the 5-million-plus population metroplex of today.

“I mean, everybody wanted two houses built every day,” he recalled. “I learned a lot about how to run a business, too. One year I had 15 brick masons and 35 laborers. We worked six months and only made $1,000.”

“I cut way back, a couple of masons and three or four laborers and we made better money,” he laughed.

A talented conceptual artist, Cummings brought along a painting he did of himself, laying brick, with a quite attractive blond lady in the foreground.

A couple of months after the painting was finished, A line Faulkner Cummings became his bride of 67 years.

MYSTERY SOLVED?—Cummings may even have provided the answer to a longtime Rockdale-area mystery.

In the 1940s newspaper articles began to appear claiming stones from Milam County’s 18th Century Spanish missions were incorporated into construction of the San Gabriel School.

One article even cites a heartshaped rock, which ended up in a school wall, as coming from the ruins of the San Xavier mission.

A daily newspaper story from 1941 quotes “school trustee Jamie L. Clark” as saying he and several other area residents in 1930 rounded up every piece of the mission ruins they could find, pieces that would eventually find their way into the school.

“No, that’s not right,” Cummings said. “The stones for that school c ame f rom Dona hoe Creek, not from the San Gabriel River area.”

(Donahoe Creek, which drains into the Little River, not the San Gabriel, is 8-10 miles northwest of the San Gabriel River bottomland.)

And the heart, which Cum- mings visited during his trip to Milam County, was something he carved, then adorned with his initials, along with those of wife to be Aline Faulkner, RC and AF.

Cummings also carved a Texasshaped rock and built it into the school, too.

He said twin brother Roy Cummings also worked with him on the San Gabriel School.

Cummings is proud of his handiwork which, in Rockdale, has now lasted 75 years.

“It’s still looking good,” he said. “Not bad for stone, sand, lime and cement!”


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The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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