Milam County Historical Commission
Milam County, Texas

All credit for these articles go to
Susie Sansom-Piper and
the Rockdale Reporter
Milam County Historical Commission - Milam County, TX
Statue of Ben Milam at Milam County, TX Courthouse
Old Junior High School Building, Rockdale, TX
Milam County Courthouse - Cameron, TX
Preserve America
Groceries were a short walk away
by Susie Sansom-Piper
Rockdale Reporter - February 26, 2009
Paul Moultry Blacksmith Shop was the oldest business in Rockdale, beginning before
Rockdale was incorporated as a town.

This story was told in a previous Reporter article “The Finality of a Blacksmithing Era.”

The original anvil belonging to Paul Moultry is now housed in The Institute of Texan
Cultures in San Antonio, along with his photo and an explanation of his contributions.

Paul trained his four sons, Edgar, Johnnie, Julius (Bose) and James as blacksmiths.

Julius, who died in 1978, was the last of the legendary blacksmiths.

The trip hammer from the Bose Moultry shop has been donated to the Rockdale depot museum.

Rockdale honored his contributions in 1980 by naming a city park on Baxter Street the
Bose Moultry Park.

Bessie’s Cottage

Jack Shields Blacksmith Shop was located between the railroad tracks and First Street.

He came to Rockdale in the 1800s and began operating the blacksmith business with his
oldest son, Johnnie. Jack and his wife Matilda Benson Shields were parents to 17

Daughter Alyce P. Shields was a well-known teacher in the New York City public schools.
After here retirement she returned to Rockdale and established the former Negro History
Library on Fourth Street.

Another daughter, Gladys P. Shields, was one of the first switchboard operators at
Prairie View Normal and Industrial School (Now Prairie View A&M).

Daughter Bessie Shields-Beal was a well-known seamstress who was very creative in costume
making and made costumes for Aycock’s operettas.

Her cottage on Seventh Street has been renovated and restored as a bed and breakfast and
bears the name “Bessie’s Cottage.”

Daughter Jennie Shields Richards lived to the age of 105 and was one of Rockdale’s most
popular citizens.

She rode a motorcycle, took an airplane trip and often rode in a Rockdale fire truck in
parades well past age 100.

Jack Shields and son Ralph were procurers for cemetery lots in the old Oak Lawn Cemetery.
It is said the lots sold for $3.50 a plot.

Sons Jessie and Johnnie Shields were also musicians in the old Moultry Brothers Jazz


During the 1930s and 1940s there were four miniature grocery stores located in The Flat.

All were within walking distance for East Rockdale residents.

The Cebron Sauls store was on the corner of Second and Plum, the Joe Chandler store was
the first building on the corner of Plum and Third, while the Jim Beals store was the
third building on Third Street.

Their merchandise was very similar, bologna sausage (hung from the ceiling on a string),
bread, pork-and-beans, salt bacon, tomatoes, 5-cent candy bars, a penny all-day sucker,
licorice, “red water,” 5-cent sodas, sardines, red beans, crackers, light bread and more.

One could make a meal by spending only 25 cents.

Most of this was sold to men who had to catch the Batte trucks and travel to the farms to
gather crops.

In later years Will Norris Fair Sr. operated a store and his brother, Lonnie Fair, a
barbecue place in the Jim Beals location.

Fred Foster (Mr. Fred and Mrs. Janie) operated a store-cafe on Third Street and what is
now MLK selling the same items but also including cooked foods such as hamburgers, hot
dogs and chili.

The last store

Withie Emmitt McKee Sr. was the last person to operate a grocery business in The Flat.

For many years he was the delivery man for E. M. Perry and for the Scarbrough & Hicks

When he was a younger man he operated a store with Will Roberts for a short time. He also
worked as a maintenance man for the City of Rockdale until his retirement.

Then he returned to the little grocery business, operating the McKee Grocery & Ice House
on Third Street.

He sold the usual small grocery items, bologna, sausage, pork and beans, bread, candy,
sodas and more.

After the untimely death of his wife, Withie Sr. was determined to educate his children.

All completed high school and achieved careers of teaching, beautician, chief cooks,
tailors and military.

For many years Withie Sr. served as usher and deacon for New Hope Baptist Church
Series author Susie Piper visits
historic ‘Bessie’s Cottage,’ now
a bed-and-breakfast business.
Photo by Mike Brown
Ledger book from old Withie McKee
Store, last of the grocery businesses
to operate in The Flat area.
Ledger from Withie McKee's Store - Rockdale, TX