Rosenberg, affectionately known at the time as ‘Mudtown’ due to the dirt streets and regular flooding of the Brazos River, was first settled around 1823 from the Mexican land granted to Stephen F. Austin’s Old 300. Richmond, Fort Bend County‘s headquarters, inadvertently gave birth to the city of Rosenberg by refusing right-of-way to the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railways.
Our town’s namesake, Henry von Rosenberg, was born June 22, 1824 and emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in 1843. Mr. Rosenberg was the first president of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroads and was a very wealthy railroad tycoon. Later in life, Mr. Rosenberg became a philanthropist and upon his death on May 12, 1893, he left his wealth to many charitable organizations. Due to his importance in the railroad industry and his many charitable donations, a bronze statue of him was erected in Galveston in 1916.
By 1865, Houston was the leading railroad center in Texas, and most of Galveston‘s (a city approximately 60 miles from Rosenberg) business went through that city. However, train traffic in and out of Galveston was sometimes blocked to the quarantine of goods suspected of spreading deadly yellow fever.
In 1873, a Galveston group led by Henry von Rosenberg, the Sealy brothers and others, made plans to build the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroad in order to circumvent the Houston route. It was intended that the railroad extend all the way to Temple, Texas.
The law required all railroads to come “within a mile of the courthouse” of the county involved, the G.C. & S.F. planned to pay the new railroad a cash bonus or to grant a right-of-way, for they already had the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio lines. The G.C. & S.F. line, therefore, turned south around Richmond, crossing the existing G.H. & S.A. at Rosenberg Junction (named after Mr. Rosenberg) in 1880.
In the 1880’s, the city was populated with only one store, a saloon, and Mrs. Ebell’s hotel, and all of its residents lived in tents.
In 1881, Count Joseph Telfener, an Italian, moved to Rosenberg to begin work on the New York, Texas, and Mexican Railway, leading to Victoria. It was soon known as the “Macaroni Line” because of the Italians who laid the tracks.
In 1884, the Wells Fargo Company opened an office, and railroad shipments were expanded to include everything from crates of chickens to huge amounts of gold bullion and silver, all guarded by Mr. Taylor Ray, the freight agent. In 1882, the New York, Texas, and Mexican Railroad, began the “Macaroni Line” making Rosenberg the junction of the Santa Fe, Southern Pacific, & Southern Pacific’s Victoria Division Railroads. The town boomed, with nearby ranches and plantations sending cattle and cotton for shipments daily.
Our first Mayor did not complete his term because he moved away from Rosenberg in the middle of his term. Fortunately, R.T. Mulcahy stepped up to fill the unexpired term. Mayor Mulcahy, called the “Father of Rosenberg”, was re-elected twice and afterwards served as alderman. In 1883 Mulcahy built one of the first homes in Rosenberg. In 1889, Mr. Mulcahy and others subscribed $126 to build the first school on land that he donated. Eight of Mr. Mulcahy’s nine children were the first to be enrolled. Mulcahy was on the school board for 20 years and was elected the first school board president because of his interest in seeing that children of the pioneer families received a good education. Mayor Mulcahy was later elected as Representative of Legislature for the 25th District.
By the turn of the century, local land developers were sending promotional literature to the northern and midwestern states, explaining that “the famous Brazos Valley…has the most fertile land in America,” and showing pictures of green spaces, fruit orchards, wagons of cotton waiting to be ginned and Victorian homes, all intended to entice more settlers to the area. Soon there were people of German, Czech, Polish and Mexican ancestry flocking to the area. There was even a section called “Indiana Town”, after the carpenters and craftsmen who came from Indiana with new construction techniques intended to withstand hurricane-force winds.
Early plats show the business section located north of the railroad, with stores centered about a public square. But the Brazos River, always subject to flooding, was only five blocks north of the railroad and, as the floods reoccurred, the town moved southward.
In 1905, the Brazos Brick and Drain Tile Works was established by George W. Songer. Most of its production was shipped to Houston by rail, and was used to construct that city’s “skyscrapers.”
By the first decade of the twentieth century, the commercial district centered about Main Street (now 3rd Street). The first two-story buildings were the J.H.P. Davis Bank (Reese Building), the Gray & Sons Building, the Cochran Brokers Building, and Erp Building (Vogelsang Buildings).
By 1912 there were 56 businesses, including banks, real estate firms, loan and land development companies, merchants, doctors and lawyers. In 1919 Mr. Dittman built the Liberty Theatre (Cole Theater) on 3rd Street between Avenue H and Avenue G, and hired Mart Cole, Sr. to operate it. By 1927, the Robinowitz brothers, who had come from Russia one by one and first operated a series of horse-drawn peddler’s carts, had built themselves the city’s first department store on the corner of 3rd Street and Avenue H.
Law and order came in 1902, when the city incorporated and passed 70 articles entitled, “Criminal Offenses.” The Volunteer Fire Department dates back to 1914, when the city bought a two-wheel hand-drawn hose reel with 500 feet of hose—which had to be pulled by 10 or 12 men.
In 1902, the first telephone was installed, probably in the Cumings Drug Store (Frank’s Pharmacy). The Fort Bend Telephone Company was started in 1914. The Rosenberg Progress was established in 1893, and was purchased by George Lang in 1895 and called the Silver X-Ray. In 1901, George Vinson established The Rosenberg News, later to become the Rosenberg Herald, located on 2nd Street between Avenues G and H. This paper was published by various owners and eventually merged with the Herald Coaster in 1967.
There were cotton gins in Rosenberg shortly after it became a town and by 1905, N.P. Teague’s Mill and Elevator Company were operating north of the tracks on 3rd Street. By 1908, the Farmer’s Gin was operating with a steam boiler to run the equipment. Oil and sulphur were discovered in the area in 1901. Attention soon turned from cotton and ranching to oil and sulphur, where deposits were found at Boling, Damon’s Mound, Big Creek, Long Point and Orchard.
In 1930 Main Street (3rd Street) was paved. The Wiedner Ford Company, the Hillyer Baker Chevrolet Company, Calloway Autos and the Lane Motor Company came to town, and Rude and Lane built the first drive-thru filling station at the corner of Avenue H and 2nd Street (Joe’s Auto). By 1942, 15 miles of concrete sidewalks were laid.
By 1940, Fred Blase’s Drive-In and Leonard’s Drive-In appeared, with waitresses on horseback at Leonard’s. In the same year, pavement at the east side of town (which had lain useless for 10 years) was extended to Richmond. Business picked up, and Rosenberg soon became known as the “Hub of the Gulf Coast.”
In 1947, Senate candidate Lyndon B. Johnson landed, by helicopter, on the roof of Leonard Penkert’s Store and Garage, and Mart Cole, Sr., Wendell Shannon, D.I. Lowem, Gus Kunkel, Walter Shult and Julius Junker established radio station KFRD. By 1951, John Wayne, Jeff Chandler, Keenan Wynn and Gayle Storm had appeared at the Cole Theatre to promote “Movie Time in Texas.” In 1959 Fidel Castro passed through on a motorcade en route to a Hungerford ranch, where he was to receive a horse. By 1960, the city’s population was 9,698 and by 1970, 12,098. By 1980, there were 17,995 people and new shopping centers were springing up all over the city. Rosenberg’s population as of the 2010 census was 30,618.