Saving the past

Volunteers racing calendar to retrieve items from historic home
Reporter Editor

From left, Geri Burnett points out historic windows to Lynn Young and Annette Stone. 
Reporter/Mike Brown From left, Geri Burnett points out historic windows to Lynn Young and Annette Stone. Reporter/Mike Brown They’re trying to “make lemonade out of lemons” but it’s a big task and the clock is ticking.

Members of the Milam County Historical Commission are preserving items from the ruin of what may be Rockdale’s oldest house before it’s razed.

The former Dr. Rob Wallis house, at the Milam-San Gabriel corner, was gutted by fire on Jan. 20, 2016.

This year it was sold to the City of Rockdale as part of the downtown site for the new police station. It will be razed.

But before that happens the dedicated volunteers of the Milam County Historical Society are trying their best to save whatever can be salvaged.

The Reporter recently accompanied three of them inside the ruined home, which was chock-full of antiques when it burned just over a year ago.

WINDOWS—“It just makes you want to cry,” Geri Burnett, commission chair, said. “All this history is ruined. But we’ve taken a lot of things out and we’re working on saving some of the structural items.”

Chief among those are the building’s three leaded glass windows.

One is located high on a majestic curved staircase which leads to the upper stories.

Burnett said Perry & Perry Builders is working with the salvage effort and City Manager Chris Whittaker has promised to give volunteers as much time as possible for their task.

Construction on the new police station is expected to begin in August.

“We’re doing this as the weather cooperates,” Burnett said. “We really appreciate everyone working with us.”

HISTORY—The home was definitely built no later than the 1880s, possibly even before Rockdale was incorporated as a city in 1874.

It’s believed the home was built by a wealthy Houston cotton merchant who never lived there.

First occupants of the house were the Dr. Rob Wallis Sr. family.

Dr. Rob Wallis Sr. moved to Rockdale from Tennessee. His son, Dr. Rob Wallis Jr., was a physician and was a well known part of early Rockdale life.

His widow, Martha “Patsy” Wallis, lived in the house for 40 years.

In 1975, the home was occupied by the Billy Boyd family. The Boyds discovered some of the light bulbs in the house were made by the Edison Company in 1904.

They were still burning in 1975.

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