History of Rockland

A brief history of our sweet little town

  The first permanent settler in the Valley was a Spaniard named Hildalgo Quadelupe Valdez, born in Mexico in 1856.  He settled here in 1878, and pioneered irrigation in the area by diverting water from Rock Creek to water his place.  He was granted the first water right in the Valley on February 15, 1879.  Several families arrived in 1879 to homestead the area, and by winter all of the desirable and easily irrigated land had been claimed.

  Irrigation was very important to the development of the area, and the first cooperative ditch was constructed in 1880 by farmers along the lower end of the creek.  The U.S. Ditch followed in 1881 and the longest and most costly canal called the Bench Ditch was constructed in 1883.  The West Ditch in 1884 and several small diversion allowed, by 1890, over 2,500 acres to be under cultivation.

  Mail service was started in 1884, but a post office could not be established until the village had a name.  Clara Houtz chose the name Rockland and in 1885, H.P. Houtz started a post office in his home.  Now the area had a name!

  Dryland wheat came to the Valley in 1898.  H.S. Walker and his sons Mark and Guy broke out 2 acres and planted 3 sacks of the dryland wheat in the fall of 1898, and harvested the first crop.  It was a success, and they plowed up more land – in 1902 they harvested 500 bushels of wheat.  When others found out that dry farming could be profitable, hundreds flocked to homestead in the Valley.

  During this influx of homesteaders, Rockland became a “Boom Town”.  In April of 1909, Gustavus A. Perry sold 80 acres for the Rockland townsite.  Many businesses sprung up and in 1910 the population was over 800.  Businesses grew to include grocery and general stores, second hand shop,doctors, dentist, bank, hotel, saloon, dance halls, livery stable, hardware store, barber shop, cafes, bowling alley, theater, even an automobile dealership and a newspaper.  In 1917 the road to American Falls was graded and graveled, making travel much faster and easier.

  The first school was taught by Clara Houtz, but soon there were too many students for school in a home, and the first log school was built (with all donated labor) in what was known as Perry’s Pasture.  The building also served as a social center where basket socials, dances, and other celebrations were held.  In 1915, a 3 story brick school was built on the hill just east of town, and it became known as High School Hill (also known as Old School Hill).  The building weathered a cyclone that tore the roof off and an earthquake that sounded its death knell.  The new school wasn’t completed until February of 1938, so in the fall of 1937 school was held in the 2 churches and the Relief Society Building.

  With the growth of the community, the first social contacts were afforded through the L.D.S. Church.  People went from home to home and services were held under the direction of James I. May and H.C. Wood.  By 1884 membership of the church had grown to the point that a Ward was organized.  Services were held in homes and in the school until 1895 when a red brick meeting house was built on a tract of land donated by Gustavus Adolphus Perry.  Both members and non members contributed to its construction and it was used for other gatherings as well as worship services.  Interesting side note: the bricks were made by hand by the Levi and Will Southwell families of local mud and fired until red and even in color.  The building was added upon a few times and still stands, now as a private residence at the corner of East Center and Cedar Streets, across from the school.

  The Congregational Church, a lovely white building with beautiful stained glass windows and traditional bell tower (with operating original bell), was built in 1913.  First minister was Reverend Shaw, and most loved of all the ministers was Reverend Cowman.  A big 100 year celebration was held in 2013.

  There were 5 sawmills in the Valley over the years, and in 1924 a cheese factory was established in a former saloon building south of the Rockland Milling Company, and served until 1941 when a new cheese factory was built.  The building survives at the corner of west Center and Creamery Roads, but the Kraft operation relocated out of the Valley many years ago.  The first grain elevator was built in 1914 By Sam Morris and Henry Houtz, located on North Willow Street.  It was later operated by the Sperry Company.  Another elevator was known as Stype and Houtzinger Implement House, and now houses the Power County Highway Rockland division.  Electricity was brought to the Valley in 1917.

 The first water system was established in 1914 by Doc Marsh, and it served the community until 1947.  In 1947, a corporation was formed by 8 local men to build and improve on the current system which they operated until 1959 when they sold it to the City.  The Council began pushing for a new water and sewer system.  Over the years, several improvements were made including a newer distribution system installed in 1969.  It was mostly constructed of AC concrete pipe.  A 10,000 gallon storage tank was added in 1975.  By the late 1990’s, however, the system was reaching the end of its design life and was inadequate to provide recommended fire flows.  It had also had several occurrences of coliform bacteria in the recent past.  In 1999, a new system went online.  All new water distribution mains and laterals, with 6″ lines to reduce maintenance, increase pressure, reduce leaking, and provide fire flow capability were installed.

  In 1939, a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp was established on the Old School House Hill ( also known as High School Hill), and the CCC’s did conservation work in the local forests until 1942.  The L.D.S. Ward frequently furnished music for their Sunday services.

  The American Legion built a hall in 1948, located on East Nez Perce Street, and has a small park adjoining.  It is now property of the city of Rockland and is available to rent for special events.

  The main City Park was donated by Elvin Cox,  It is the scene of local celebrations including the 4th of July, a Christmas Tree Lighting, and Harvest Dinner.  Earlier, in 1935-1936, the W.P.A.built a park north of the present school.  It included several bridges, picnic tables, restrooms, a log refreshment building, and rustic benches for campfires.  Unfortunately, the W.P.A. park is now only a memory to the more senior residents.

  Rockland became a city on March 4, 1968 with Resolution #38, to bring Rockland in line with new state regulations that elevated all incorporated villages to city status.

 Although the population of Rockland has decreased since those early “Boom Days”, it is still a very good place to live and raise a family..

This history has been compiled mostly from “The History of Rockland Valley 1879-1970”  available for purchase from the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers – Camp Lupe   They have a museum in the old Relief Society Building – built in 1916, it was financed by the ladies selling “Sunday eggs”, holding home plays, and conducting bazaars.  It is located on Cedar Street adjacent to the Main City Park.