The Rockwell Building Underwent a Rebirth
This is a description of the new Rockwell Building at the corner of Eighth and Washington Streets in Junction City taken from a September 25, 1880 Union newspaper article researched by Gaylynn Childs, retired Geary County Historical Society Director.
“The building is 63 x 120 feet on the ground, two stories high, with a basement under the whole structure. The front of the building, which is on Washington Street, is of brick, iron and glass. The other sides are of stone.
The first floor is divided practically into two rooms, each of a width of 30 feet. The north room is for groceries and queens ware and the south room is for dry goods. There is an opening in the partition between the rooms, which contains the counting room.
In the rear end of the grocery department is a lady’s waiting room which is comfortably and tastefully furnished with settees and chairs, a large looking glass, wash bowls, etc. Connected with this room is a private retreat, for the exclusive use of ladies and children.
Over the years, the Rockwell Company quickly rebounded from the financial loss resulting from two destructive fires, but in September 1888, when a third fire destroyed the luxurious new store the Rockwell’s had a loss of approximately $95,000, which was covered by only $41,000 in insurance. The third fire threatened to destroy the whole Junction City business district when strong northeast winds came up. But miraculously, a heavy rain followed the wind and helped save all but two adjacent firms. However, two employees who had sleeping rooms above the store, died in the fire.”
In April 1889, an ad appeared in the Union newspaper, which stated in part: “It is with pleasure that we announce to you that we are now occupying the new buildings upon which we commenced work after the fire of September last. We did think that our old rooms could not be improved upon, but we are satisfied when you see our new quarters, that you will say they are decidedly ahead of the old, more light, more ventilation, more room, more comfortable in every way. In these rooms, we have really eight stores – dry goods, groceries, queens ware, carpets, clothing, hats and caps, men’s furnishing goods and boots and shoes…. We ask you to come and see us and trade with us, we shall continue to give 16 ounces to the pound and 36 inches to the yard.” The B. Rockwell Merchandise & Grain Company did business at the corner of Eighth and Washington Streets, until 1925.
Abilene Was Chosen As The Cattle Shipping Center
Following the Civil War, Texas was overrun with longhorn cattle. People involved in the business were looking for new markets for their cattle.
In 1866, some Texas cattle made their appearance in the Junction City area by way of a new Shawnee Trail from Texas. R. Patterson opened a packinghouse here in 1867 to take advantage of the availability of the beef.
Completion of the railroad to Junction City in November of 1866 had provided a shipping point to markets in the east. For a brief time, the Shawnee Trail was used by cattlemen to bring herds from Texas to the railhead in Junction City. However, there were enough people in Junction City, who discouraged the cattle trade that the stockman, Joseph McCoy, who was determined to locate his loading pens in the area, went to Abilene.
Stock owners in Davis County (now Geary County) had expressed serious concern over the introduction of Texas cattle, because the cattle were often infected with ticks that served as carriers of “Texas Fever”, which could decimate an entire herd.
In the Spring of 1867, a public meeting was held in the Clark’s Creek area in the eastern part of the county to organize the resistance to Texas cattle in Davis County. This local opposition and the extension of the railroad westward helped make McCoy’s second option a cattle shipping center. As a result, the Dickinson County settlement of Abilene became one of the most famous cowtowns in the old west.