Milam County Historical Commission
Milam County, Texas
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
                                    THORNDALE, TEXAS

Unique only to Thorndale,  it was surveyed, platted, dedicated and recorded in two
counties: Williamson and Milam in Texas.

Shortly after the Civil War, I&GN Railroad was building a rail line from Palestine, in
East Texas to Austin. By 1874 it was built through Rockdale and headed for Taylor in
1876. Imagine it took five years to build 25 miles of track.

In 1878 an agent for the Texas Land Company of Palestine executed a plat and dedicated
the town of Thorndale in Williamson County.  The town was located about two miles west
of present day Thorndale between County Road 427 and an old picnic area along Highway
79.  Approved and recorded in Williamson County on July 29, 1878, it was approved for a
Post Office with a Postmaster.  A Hotel, General store and some homes were built in
this new town.

Mr. Caruthers lived east of this new town...  He had a hankering for a town, where he
lived in Milam County. He purchased such an area, surveyed and platted the land in
Milam County (area east of Thorndale located in Williamson County). After his work was
completed he approached the owners, worked out a deal to purchase all the buildings in
the Williamson County’s city named Thorndale and moved the buildings across the Milam/
Williamson County line. Streets were dedicated and this new city in the western area of
Milam County on Highway 79 was recorded in the Milam County records on October 7 1880.

St. Paul Lutheran School building was built in 1891.This building served as a school
and a church. The first parsonage was built in 1893, with the pastor also serving as
the school teacher.  

Mr. Caruthers also donated one acre of land for the first public school site located
about two blocks west of Main Street. Trustees for the new school were: J. C. Elliot,
J. K. Quinn and G. W. Gresham. The first school was built in 1883 and used until 1905
when another site was chosen and a new school was built.  This school was a wooden
structure and had two rooms. In 1909 another room was added to the building.

In Mr. W. B. Elliott’s letter written to Gary Satterwhite in Caldwell, Texas, an
interesting fact was discovered as Mr. Elliott wrote: ”At the time the railroad built
the tracks in route to Taylor, they planned to make a division point where the town of
Thorndale is now located in Milam County, an equal distance from Palestine and San
Antonio.  However, when they drilled for water in Thorndale, they discovered mineral
water that could not be used in steam engines so they chose Taylor. A water source in
the Nile Community 3 miles east of Thorndale solved the water problem and Thorndale
remained a city.

Now that the city of Thorndale was in Milam County and Mr. Caruthers had moved the
buildings from Williamson County, people began settling the area.

Some of the mercantile establishments in former years were: W. S. Caruthers, Quick &
Hockwall, Otto J. E. Urban, H. M. Moerbe (Moerbe & Michalk), J. K. Quinn, D. R.
Webster; Charles Williams, Summerlin & Melde, Dr. P. A. Ramsel, Elliott & Barnes, Gus
Norman and Clement & Gore. There were three hotels, two movie theaters, doctors and

In 1914 a three story school building that contained twelve classrooms and an
auditorium was filled with children from the population of the town. In 1940 a storm
damaged the third story of the building. It was then that the school added the West
Building which was used as an elementary building.

In 1926 a group of citizens gathered signatures on a petition to organize a municipal
government. An election was held and the vote was in favor of incorporating.  Mr. G. S.
Summerlin was elected Mayor. But, after a year, another petition was circulated to
dies-incorporate. This time the vote went the other way and the town government was

The people who settled Thorndale came from Southern States and countries in Europe. 
They settled in this western town known for its rich fertile soil. Immigrants landed at
Galveston port and traveled by ox cart up through the areas now known as Halletsville,
Serbin, Ledbetter, and Lincoln.

St. Paul Lutheran Church was the first church built in the area as was their school and
cemetery.   St. John Lutheran Church was first built in the Detmold Community and later
moved into Thorndale.  St. John’s Cemetery is located in the Detmold Community off
county road 434. Both these churches have Texas Historic Subject Markers. First Baptist
Church of Thorndale was first located on North Main (FM 486). That building was sold
and a new church was built on Highway 79, on the west side of the City. Trinity United
Methodist Church building located on North Main (FM 486) j was closed several years ago
due to a decline in membership. This building was sold to private owners. The Methodist
pastor and remaining members with the Methodist Church in the Pleasant Retreat area
south of Thorndale off FM 486. Mt. Zion Baptist Church is located on 104 E. Church
Street in Thorndale.

Other churches in the area outside the city of Thorndale are:  San Gabriel Christian
Church that also has a Texas Historical Subject Marker. This church continues to serve
that community having recently built a Family Center by the church.  San Gabriel
Baptist Church is located just northeast of the Christian Church. The community of
Salty organized a church that thrived until the late 1960’s.  The church building was
purchased by the community and is used for community needs and maintained by the Salty
Cemetery Association. Conoley Church is located on south FM 486 in Conoley community.
Conoley  Cemetery is located north of the church. 

A Crazy Water Crystal Plant was located on the east side of town on Highway 79.  This
facility open and  operated bath houses. Remnants of these structures can be viewed on
the north side of the highway.  This business sold bottled water for medicinal

Other early businesses included: a Cotton Gin, a Hotel, C. K. Hendricks Welding Shop,
located on Highway 79, and Forbes Grocery Store and Mercantile, Simons Grocery Store,
Falke Grocery Store, Barnes Drug Store,  Ribbeck Hardware and Furniture, Thorndale
Hardware, Bakery Café, Ideal Chevrolet Company, Barron’s Service Station, , Thorndale
Lumber Company, Tiemann Auto Repair, Thorndale Mercantile which  became Steve Rieger’s
Grocery and Feed Store, a Movie Theater and a Doctor’s office were in the downtown
area.  All of these business buildings still stand and some are still occupied, just
under different ownership and names.

Thorndale’s Post Office once stood at the west corner of Salty and Main Street across
from Ideal Motor Company.  When the Post Office moved, that building was demolished. A
new post office was built on North First Street.

In the late 1940’s Thorndale’s Main Street was dirt. When it rained, it was muddy. As
the city government built its infrastructure, streets were paved.

Thorndale was once known for the number of Beer establishments in its city. Just inches
away from the Milam County/Williams County line is  Schroders Place, serving hamburgers
by the same family for over 50 years. Other beer businesses were:  Wuensche’s, Leroys,
and Steves Place and Brushy Creek Bar, which is now under different ownership. Families
came to town on Saturdays to purchase groceries. Men waited for their wives to buy
groceries and other household supplies in these local establishments. It was a day to
visit and take care of business.

Businesses along Highway 79 during the 1950’s were Martin Rodenbeck's automotive
business and Bill Rodenbecks’s businesses.  Both these men were known throughout the
area for their trades.  Buildings associated with those business still exist. Martin
Rodenbecks is leased and Bill Rodenbeck family operates Rodenbeck Farm and Ranch. In
2011, Rodenbecks renovated an area on the property and added a new building to house
Thorndale Meat Market. These two businesses continue the Rodenbecks history of serving
customers continuously for over 50 years. Thorndale Meat Market was east of Rodenbecks
and supplied Thorndale area with meat products. After it closed, that building once a
Drive in Hamburger place, was purchased and today is operated by the Barron family. It
is a Hamburger business as it was built to be in the mid 1970’s. What was once a
Cleaners, operated by Ina Becker now houses a Donut Shop. One Stop Shopping is Located
at the corner of Hwy 79 and FM486/Main Street. 

Across FM 486 to the east is:  Exxon Convince Store, Dollar General Store, Russell’s
Resale Shop, and Carols, Antiques and More. Carol’s served Thorndale as a restaurant
and small grocery store in the 1960- to 2011...  Thorndale Coop is housed in what once
was the Thorndale Cottonseed Oil Mill. 

Milam County Precinct 4 has two offices: Justice of the Peace Northcott west of the Red
Light and Pct. 4 Commissioner Barn and Jeff Muegge’s office located east of the Red
Light on Highway 79.

Thorndale has a very active volunteer Fire Organization supported by the Ladies
Auxiliary. The Fireman’s Hall is home to many celebrations of the community: Wedding
reception, Anniversary parties, and fund raisers in support of their close-net
community needs.

The city of Thorndale in conjunction with the Thorndale Fireman’s Hall and VFW has a
city park that includes space for the annual BBQ Cook-off and festivities. The City
Swimming Pool and Baseball fields are part of this complex.

Thorndale Chamber of Commerce organized in the 1950, has since renovated one of the
downtown buildings. This organization works with the City and Fireman’s Organization to
build and boost the economy by sponsoring events in support of the City.

Thorndale’s 1880’s business district has remained almost the same as many of the 1800’s
buildings still exist.    Butts Dry Goods has been serving Thorndale over seventy years
ago.  Thorndale State Bank building was restored and is still in operation under a
different name.   The Old Forbes grocery Store now houses the Downtown Care and there
are two buildings of Antiques which draw traffic off Highway 79.  Some of the buildings
have modified store fronts, but for the most part, Thorndale, is still one block of
historic buildings, doing business as usual. 

Businesses included: a Cotton Gin a Hotel, C. K. Hendricks Welding Shop, located on
Highway 79. Forbes Grocery Store and Mercantile, Simons Grocery Store, Falke Grocery
Store, Barnes Drug Store, Ribbeck Hardware and Furniture, Thorndale Hardware, Bakery
Café, Ideal Chevrolet Company, Barron’s Service Station, Wuensche’s Bar, Leroy’s Bar
Joint, Steve’s Place, Thorndale Lumber Company, Tiemann Auto Repair, Thorndale
Mercantile which became Steve Rieger’s Grocery and Feed Store a Movie Theater and a
Doctor’s office were in the downtown area.  All of these business buildings still stand
and some are still occupied, just under different ownership and names.

Thorndale’s Post Office once stood at the west corner of Salty and Main Street. When
the Post Office built just off Hwy 79 west of the Red Light, that building was

In the late 1940’s Main Street was dirt.  When it rained, it was muddy.  The street was
paved as part of the city improvements.This street became Farm Market 486.

Butt’s Dry Goods has been owned and operated by the same family for over 70 years. The
Thorndale Champion was housed in a building on Main Street until it was brought out by
a publishing company who continues to publish the newspaper weekly. The buildings
remain in use under different owners.

Thorndale Champion has served this area since the early 1900’s. Many editors and
reporters have served the newspaper. Prior to being sold to Milam County Newspapers,
LLC local residents manned the paper staff.     Eloise Laurence a former school
Teacher, Noreen Cowan Beard, and Grace Berry were the gathers of the news and kept the
Champion Office open for business. Their contributions to the community were the “life-
blood” of Thorndale.

Walt Disney Productions filmed “The Rookie” in Thorndale in the 1970’s. Some the
“extras’ in the film were Thorndalians. This event drew tourists to town to watch the

Thorndale is a “sports” minded town.  It must have all started in the Days of Pee Wee
Football when they won the Champion Game, coached by none other than Coach Newton
Butts.  Thorndale athletes are accustomed to competing at District, Regional and State
playoff events annually.  Thorndale High School has the following record since 1989: 
three State Football Championships, two Basketball Championships and two Baseball

Small in size - referred to by some as a “one Red light” town, Thorndale carries on the
tradition set when the first settlers came here to live and raise their families…                            

Thorndale, once deemed as the” Friendly City “remains true to its Logo or Brand of many
years back.

Research:  Letter from W. B. Elliott to Gary Satterwhite May 7, 1960 and Isabell
Locklin speech May 5, 1960, Excerpts from past issues of “Thorndale Champion” 1950’s to

Joy Graham
“Bit of Milam County History”


All credit for this article goes to
Joy Graham