As Rockdale celebrates its Centennial the newspaper known as The Rockdale Reporter joins in with gusto because the newspaper is actually older than the town itself.
The official name is The Rockdale Reporter & Messenger. The newspaper is commonly referred to simply as The Rockdale Reporter but it is a consolidation of two separate newspapers, The Rockdale Messenger, established in 1873, and The Rockdale Reporter, established in 1893.
In the 1870’s the old International & Great Northern Railroad was pushing westward to extend its line from Hearne, then the terminus, to Austin. In the year 1873 the railroad began selling lots in the spot that is now Rockdale, with the idea of starting a new town which would succeed Hearne as the terminus of the line.
Some time prior to this sale of lots by the railroad, The Milam County Messenger was established at Cameron by Major Wm. M. McGregor, a lawyer from Alabama, and his young nephew, James A. Muir, a Virginian. In the fall of 1873 the two men came to the nameless town of Rockdale and transferred their newspaper plant and all business interests to that place. The town was named Rockdale on Feb. 4, 1874, on the day the first train arrived. The Milam County Messenger, established in 1873, became The Rockdale Messenger.
The Messenger was later sold b its founders to Enoch Breeding and his sister, Miss Nannie Breeding, who had come here from Louisville, Ky. Soon after adding new improved printing equipment the entire plant was destroyed by fire in March 1877, when the entire wooden portion of Rockdale was burned. The Messenger was rebuilt.
W. M. Ferguson bought The Messenger in 1893, changing its policies from Democratic to The People’s Party. In 1900 he sold The Messenger to Howard Wilson who returned it to the Democratic fold. Some time after his death his wife and sons sold The Messenger to R. W. H. Kennon of The Rockdale Reporter and since that time the official name has been The Rockdale Reporter & Messenger.
J. H. G. Buck had originally founded The Rockdale Reporter in 1893. After a break in publication it was re-established by Homer D. Wade, then a youthful editor from Lexington. Wade’s associate, R. W. H. Kennon, bought him out and became sole owner of The Reporter. It was Kennon who merged The Reporter and The Messenger into one newspaper, which he operated until June 1911.
It was on that date he sold the merged Reporter & Messenger to John Esten Cooke who came to Rockdale from Brady. Cooke engaged the paper and extended its circulation, and The Rockdale Reporter & Messenger won respect in newspaper circles over the state. It soon became known as The Rockdale Reporter. The “And Messenger” became a secondary line in the masthead.
Cooke brought Rockdale its finest newspaper and editorial thoughts and it was he who coined the two phrases “Regal Rockdale” and “Matchless Milam.” He also coined the phrase The Reporter still uses in telling how classified ads get results: “Reporter ads get the grapes.”
John Esten Cooke assumed the duties of Rockdale Postmaster on May 13, 1936, and was succeeded by his son, W. H. Cooke, as editor and publisher of The Reporter. The elder Cooke died in 1940 shortly after receiving appointment to a second term as postmaster.
W. H. Cooke continued the pattern of excellency set by his father, John Esten Cooke, and The Reporter, which had received numerous awards in state newspapers contests under John Esten Cooke, continued to receive recognition.
When J. W. Cooke received his journalism degree from North Texas State University in 1958, he returned to Rockdale to become editor of The Reporter, with his father as publisher. The Reporter made even greater strides and has been a consistent award winner in state newspaper contests.
Both W. H. Cooke and J. W. Cooke were tagged with the nickname “Bill,” and in time became known as Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. The younger Cooke became a full partner with one-half interest in the business known as The Rockdale Reporter in January 1970. The business is a 3-headed affair, comprising a weekly newspaper, an office supply store, and a large commercial printing division.
SOURCE: Marshall, Ida Jo (ed.), Rockdale Centennial: A History of Rockdale, Texas, 1874-1974. Rockdale, TX: Rockdale Reporter, 1974. (p. 80 & 81)
Created on 15 Feb 2001 and last revised on 4 March 2003.