Bethlehem, a farming community 3-miles north of Rockdale was named for the Biblical city of Bethlehem.
Some of the early settlers who came to this area were Wilhelm Guthman, August Seelke, Sr., Charles Brockenbush, Tom Phillips, S. W. Christian, Henry Walker, Antone Strelsky, J. M. Corley, Dr. Isaacs, Spratt Wilson, David Hamilton, William P. Henry, Oscar L. Moody, Joe Frank Horton, Carl Kraatz, William Luetge, J. Busby, and Thomas Murray.
The first school in this area was a one-room building called Pleasant Grove located by the Murray Cemetery, later moving east of this location to land owned by the Kraatz family. Several years later a new building was erected on Dr. Issacs’ land near the Cat Tail Creek so it was called Cat Tail. On Feb. 8, 1897, Cat Tail school consolidated with the Bethlehem school, which stood east of the intersection of Farm Roads 487 and 1712.
By 1919 the community was booming with oil so a new three-room building was erected. Part of the building still stands, located 1-mil off Farm Road 487.
Dr. Isaacs came to the area about 1880. He acquired several hundred acres of land, which is still called the Isaacs Ranch. He was a man who stood seven feet tall, making house calls here and in surrounding areas.
Mr. Busby was a constable as well as a United States Marshal. He was stabbed to death by a Mexican.
The Carl Kraatz and William Luetge families arrived in Bethlehem Community about 1880. They came from Austin County and brought with them slaves, a colored family by the name of Cummings. Some of the Cummings family still lives in Rockdale.
Since cotton was the main crop, a gin was built near the San Gabriel River. It was owned by the Phillips family. Later it was sold to Fritz von Gonten, Sr.
One of the most interesting citizens from Bethlehem was Fifer Caudle. He operated a refinery, a genuine oil refinery, built by his own hands out of whatever he could find to put it together. He operated it without any help. He use to boil off crude and make kerosene and two grades of gasoline that would burn first rate in the automobiles used at that time. This was done in the 20’s when the Rockdale Oil Field activity was at its peak.
SOURCE: Marshall, Ida Jo (ed.), Rockdale Centennial: A History of Rockdale, Texas, 1874-1974. Rockdale, TX: Rockdale Reporter, 1974. (p. 89-90)
Bethlehem was located about 3-miles north of Rockdale in central Milam County.
It became a voting precinct in 1880. The settlement, which was named for the biblical city, had a one-teacher school with 42 students in 1903. The school was consolidated with the Rockdale Independent School District in 1954. No evidence of the community appeared on 1988 county highway maps.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lelia M. Batte, History of Milam County, Texas (San Antonio: Naylor, 1956); Milam County Heritage Preservation Soc., Matchless Milam: History of Milam County (Dallas: Taylor, 1984); Handbook of Texas On-Line
Created on 15 Feb 2001 and last revised on 2 Dec 2006.