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By Carmen Ensinger
Nestled in the far southwest corner of Greene County, the tiny community of Rockbridge will be celebrating its 150th anniversary on Aug. 7 with a day-long celebration from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Last year was actually our 150th anniversary, but due to COVID, we felt like it was safer to put it off for a year,” Dennis Price, a member of the Rockbridge Village Board said. “Plus, this year was the year for the Greenfield Triennial Homecoming so there would be a lot of people in the area so we figured there would be a lot of people who would be available to share in our celebration.”
The history of the small community of approximately 200 residents actually goes back a lot farther than 150 years.
The first settlers in the area arrived around 1819 when John and Ambrose Taylor and Benjamin Allen built homes on what would eventually become known as Taylor’s Prairie.
It was here that the first building in the area would be built – a grist mill on Macoupin Creek in 1826 by John Hardcastle and Moses Stephens. Cabins were built around the creek and a covered bridge was built to cross the creek just south of the mill in 1845.
A separate settlement with a Catholic Church sprang up around a half mile west of Rockbridge in the early 1850’s known as Dublin. This little community is gone except for a cemetery.
The original Catholic Church was later moved to Rockbridge and remodeled into a home.
A post office called Rockbridge was established in 1849 with George D. Randle as the first postmaster. He operated the post office out of his log cabin located near the grist mill.
In the year 1870, the Rockford, Rock Island and St. Louis Railroad came through, so the village of Rockbridge was moved one-half mile northwest of the old mill. It was laid out along the railroad by G.T. Sheffield and George Hudson on July 18, 1871.
The railroad company named it “Sheffield” in honor of Mr. Sheffield, which name it retained until the railroad came into the hands of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Co., who changed the name again to Rockbridge, the name of the post office never having been altered.
James Valentine erected the first general store, thereby becoming the pioneer merchant. He also built a grain warehouse and laid in a supply of lumber.
The first bank was in a tiny brick building. As more space was necessary, the bank was moved to a large building. After the Depression and the Bank Moratorium, the Rockbridge Bank failed to open for business.
Rockbridge was incorporated in 1885 with a governing body consisting of a village board and president. There were two hundred inhabitants. In a very short time, the population had increased to 300.
There were four different denominations of churches. Baptist, organized in 1837; Catholic, 1865; Methodist, 1872 and Presbyterian, which was connected with the Walnut Grove Church.
The first school house was built in 1874 with John Howell as the teacher. It was a two-story frame building, 32×42 feet in size and built at a cost of $2,500. Fire destroyed the building around 1911.
After the destruction of this building, a new one story structure was put up on the same site. It served the community as a grade school and two-year high school. It, too, was destroyed by fire in 1932. A new grade school replaced it.
In 1923, through an overwhelming vote of the people, a new school district was organized to include a four year high school. The new building was completed and ready for occupancy in the fall of 1924. It was known as the Rockbridge Community High School.
The festivities will begin at 11 a.m. with a catered meal by the Brass Door from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. followed by a program given by keynote speaker Mike Adams, a former Rockbridge resident. This will be followed by music and a time of reminiscing. Food trucks will be on hand as well.