Rock Island, TX (Washington County)

By: Carole E. Christian

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: January 23, 2019

Rock Island was an early settlement on the Brazos River near Farm Road 1736 and west of present State Highway 6, six miles north of Hempstead and fifteen miles south of Washington-on-the-Brazos. Conflicting local traditions place the Rock Island community on both the west bank of the Brazos in Washington County and on the east bank in Austin (now Waller) County. Marshy terrain in the area today indicates that the Brazos River may have changed its course during Rock Island's existence.

The Rock Island settlement grew from a plantation named Rock Island, owned by Jared E. Groce's granddaughter, Barbara Groce Clarke. This plantation was north of the Groce family's Bernardo Plantation and three miles northwest of their Liendo home. Rock Island was named by an early settler, Amos Gates, who noted the small island in the Brazos opposite the site. Near Barbara Clarke's plantation a general store, an inn, a cotton gin, and a blacksmith shop attracted the first concentrated population in the area. Rock Island's growth slowed in 1837 when it lost a county seat election to Washington. A ferry and the establishment of Rock Island Academy contributed to Rock Island's prosperity.

By 1839 a road linked Rock Island to Washington and to the Houston road. By 1846 a post office had been established at Rock Island or nearby. In June 1849 Rock Island had a post office of its own. Despite Washington's growing share of steamboat traffic, Rock Island prospered until the arrival of rail transportation in the area. Washington's refusal to pay the Houston and Texas Central Railway a subsidy to cross the Brazos at Rock Island caused Rock Island's decline, when the railroad changed its projected route to Navasota. After Hempstead was founded in 1857 on the new Houston and Texas Central line, many residents of Rock Island moved there. Rock Island lost its post office to Hempstead in June 1857. Rock Island had been the only sizable population center in the vicinity, but the development of Hempstead brought about its demise.

W. O. Dietrich, The Blazing Story of Washington County (Brenham, Texas: Banner Press, 1950; rev. ed., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1973). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Washington County Scrapbook, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Carole E. Christian, “Rock Island, TX (Washington County),” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 23, 2019