Cameron, the county seat of Milam County, is located at the intersection of U.S. highways 77 and 190, on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, about 14-miles north of Rockdale in the north central part of the county.
In April 1846 the Texas Legislature authorized a seven-member commission to find a permanent site for the Milam county seat. The commission purchased a sixty-acre tract of Daniel Monroe's headright on the Little River later that year and named the new town Cameron, in honor of Ewen Cameron.
When the courthouse at Cameron was completed in 1846, the county records were transferred to Cameron from Nashville, which had served as the seat of Milam County during the republic. The new town struggled in its early years because of its isolation, the nearest railroad being more than fifty miles away.
In the late 1840s and early 1850s several attempts were made to navigate the Little River in order to give Cameron easier access to trade routes. The most successful of these occurred in 1850 after rains had made the river rise. J. W. McCown, Sr., persuaded Capt. Basil M. Hatfield to bring his steamboat, the Washington through the upper Brazos and up the Little River. The steamboat and the merchandise it brought caused great excitement among residents, and a 2-day celebration was held when the boat tied up 2½ miles east of Cameron. Navigation of the river was impractical on a regular basis, however, and other towns, such as Nashville and later Port Sullivan, prospered in the 1850s and 1860s as the dominant business centers of Milam County.
Cameron faced even greater competition in the 1870s, when Rockdale was established on the International-Great Northern Railroad. The arrival of the railroad prompted considerable discussion among Milam County residents as to whether Cameron should remain the county seat, and elections were held in 1874 and 1880 to decide if the county government should be moved to Rockdale.
Cameron survived these challenges, and in 1881 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway arrived; the San Antonio and Aransas Pass came through the town ten years later. The railroads improved the town's economy and increased its prestige.
The population grew from an estimated 500 in 1878 to 800 by 1884 and 2,000 by 1892. Cameron had attempted to incorporate in 1856, 1866, and 1873, but each time the charter was allowed to lapse; the town was finally incorporated for good in 1889.
Although agriculture, particularly cotton, dominated the town's economy in the nineteenth century, diverse industrial interests came into play in the early twentieth century. The discovery of oil in neighboring Williamson County in 1915 prompted residents in Milam County to look for oil of their own, and the discovery of the Minerva-Rockdale field in 1921 provided new opportunities for investment. Several milk-product companies, including the Kraft-Phenix Cheese Corporation, were in operation at Cameron in the 1920s and 1930s.
Cameron residents received much-needed job opportunities in the 1950s, when the Aluminum Company of America built a plant a few miles southwest of Rockdale. Jobs at the plant, as well as in the lignite industry that supplied the plant's power, revitalized the economy of the entire county.
Unfortunately, Cameron suffered setbacks when the Texas and New Orleans discontinued its track from Cameron south to Giddings in 1959, and again in 1977, when the Southern Pacific, which had taken over the Texas and New Orleans, abandoned its track from Cameron north to Rosebud.
The population of Cameron rose from 5,227 in 1952 to an estimated 7,500 in 1958; it fell to 5,640 in the early 1960s and, after a brief recovery, to 5,347 in 1978; the town reported 5,817 residents in 1988. The present courthouse, which was constructed in 1890, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1990 the population was 5,580.BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ann Arthur, "A New Era for Milam County," Texas Historian, March 1972; Lelia M. Batte, History of Milam County, Texas (San Antonio: Naylor, 1956); Katherine Bradford Henderson, The Early History of Milam County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1924); Curtis Henley, "Alcoa's Impact on Milam County," Texas Historian, September 1974; Margaret Eleanor Lengert, The History of Milam County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1949); Handbook of Texas On-Line
Created on 15 Feb 2001 and last revised on 2 Dec 2006.