Commissioners approve relocating historic calaboose, Rockdale polling place

The historic calaboose currently located at Burlington.

A restored calaboose is part of the Milam County Jail Museum complex adjacent to the courthouse in downtown Cameron.

By Curtis Chubb

Rockdale is fast becoming the hotbed for preservation of Milam County history. Last year, they asked for and received the Milam County Commissioners Court’s help in moving the Sheckels Bridge and the Galbreath Crossing Bridge to their new resting place east of downtown Rockdale. 

On Monday, they were back asking the court’s help in moving a ‘calaboose’ to Rockdale. The word ‘calaboose’ is from the Spanish term ‘calabozo’ which means dungeon. Calabooses were small jails used to incarcerate those accused of crimes prior to the advent of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards since they could not meet the standards. The calabooses were bare of any amenities and consisted of a cell or two with a window full of iron bars. Some were concrete while others were wooden.

Jack Brooks of the Milam County Historical Commission spoke at Monday’s meeting about the importance of preserving Milam County history and that the Commission supports Rockdale’s efforts involving the calabooses which are considered historical structures. Brooks said that there are four calabooses remaining in Milam County. One calaboose is located at each of the following towns: Burlington, Cameron, Gause, and Thorndale.

Chris Whittaker, the Rockdale City Manager, requested the help of Precinct 2 Commissioner Donald Shuffield to transport the calaboose from its location in Burlington to a place near the Rockdale City Hall. Whittaker said that a shelter will be built to protect the calaboose from rain and that a plaque describing the building’s historical importance will be attached to the building. Shuffield said that he had already talked about the project with Whittaker and predicts that it will take about one day to complete the move. 

Shuffield’s motion to approve the county’s role in the move was unanimously approved.

To learn more about Texas calabooses, you should go to the website which is a veritable treasure of knowledge about these “tiny jails” which were used from 1854 to 1947 in the United States.

The new county-wide voting has resulted in an increased number of people voting at the Rockdale Fire Station. The congestion during the March primary election – inside and outside the building – led to a meeting of the Milam County Election Commission which is comprised of the county judge, tax assessor-collector, county clerk and the chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties. 

The election commission recommended that the voting location be moved from the Rockdale Fire Station to the George Hill Patterson Community Center in Rockdale. The only dissenting vote was cast by Democratic Party Chair Tommy Grimes who was concerned about the voting location moving so soon after its recent move to the fire station. Rockdale will provide the Center at no charge. The Center is larger than the fire station and has the added advantage of dedicated parking areas.

Upon Precinct 4 Commissioner Jeff Muegge’s motion to approve the election agreement between Rockdale and Milam County, the commissioners court registered unanimous approval.

An agenda item concerning the renaming of the road leading to the Peaceful Rest Cemetery in Gause was tabled. The road is presently named “Willow Street.” Ferris Ferguson has proposed renaming the road “W.A. Gray” in honor of Mr. Gray’s dedicated work to maintain the cemetery which is registered as a Historic Texas Cemetery. Since Gause is unincorporated, the street is a county road. The motion to rename the road was tabled until the county attorney can determine the legal steps necessary to rename the road. 

In other business, the commissioners court:

• Opened and accepted Temple Freightliner’s bids to sell three dump trucks to Precinct 3 for $39,000 each – no other company submitted a bid; 

• Approved the appointment of the following people to the Milam County Child Protective Services Board: Jessica Bell-Janak, Sara Sanders, Jeanie Weed, and Kim Westbrook; 

• Approved an inter-governmental agreement between Milam County and the City of Milano which provides for Precinct 3’s equipment and manpower to grade Milano streets while the city will pay for materials, labor cost, and a $1,250 annual fee;

• Approved the lease-purchase of a road-repair machine named Asphalt Zipper for $15,000/year for five years – the machine will be used in Precincts 3 and 4; and

• Approved updating the list of projects to be funded by the County Transportation Infrastructure Fund Grant Program.