John Wesley Wilbarger was recognized for his contributions to Round Rock’s history, as well as the Round Rock White Lime Company and Walsh Family, which were jointly recognized.
The Local Legend Awards program was established in 1990 to recognize those that have had a lasting impact on the culture, development, and history of Round Rock.
Round Rock Local Legend selections must have a direct connection to the founding of the City of Round Rock or help tell the complete story of the City of Round Rock, with an emphasis on historic preservation and education of the public.
Local Legends are recognized for:
- Importance to the City’ s founding or growth;
- Association with an historic place or event;
- Impact of service to the community’ s history, development or culture;
- Achievements that have brought honor and distinction to the City of Round Rock.
This historic preservation program is intended to share informative stories with the public about Round Rock’ s culture so that the public understands how the past shaped what Round Rock is today.
Historic Preservation Commission Chair Sharon Whitaker and Vice-Chair Pamela Anderson and Local Legends Selection Committee Chair Jen Henderson presented the awards and highlighted some of the accomplishments of each of the award recipients:
John Wesley Wilbarger
John Wesley Wilbarger is named a Round Rock Local Legend in recognition of the decades he spent collecting, verifying, and documenting stories of conflict between Indians and Texas settlers.
John Wesley Wilbarger and his wife Lucy moved from Kentucky to Texas in 1837 (just after Texas independence) to join his brother Josiah Pugh Wilbarger, who had settled in Stephen F. Austin’s Colony near Bastrop in the late 1820s. While on a surveying trip in 1833 Josiah had been scalped by Comanche Indians, but was rescued by Reuben Hornsby and lived for another 11 years. His brother’s experience sparked John Wesley Wilbarger’s lifelong interest in settler conflicts with Native Americans.
John Wesley became a farmer and Methodist Minister and amassed fairly extensive land holdings in Williamson County, although he doesn’t appear as a resident of the county until the 1870 census. In 1852 he bought 316 acres out of the Jacob Harrell survey in what is now Round Rock. There either Wilbarger (or possibly the previous owner) built a two-story stone structure now known as the Sansom House although it was most likely built as a livery or stagecoach stop. He built a stone house about a mile west of there, just south of a swimming hole on Brushy Creek known as Wilbarger Hole. A number of other landmarks were named for his brothers, including Wilbarger Creek, Wilbarger Bend Road and Wilbarger County.
Around 1870 Wilbarger began to methodically collect accounts of conflicts between settlers and Native Americans, first published in 1889 as Indian Depredations in Texas. As one might assume from the title, the book took the settlers’ side in these accounts with little sympathy for the Indians or consideration for their motives. Nevertheless, he documented and verified more than 250 separate incidents, and his 672-page collection is an important historical record of these conflicts. The book is considered a classic work of Texana and has been reprinted several times, most recently in 2015. The book also has thirty-four artfully illustrated woodcuts signed by T. J. Owen which have subsequently been attributed to William Sydney Porter, another notable Texan better known by the pseudonym O. Henry.
The Round Rock White Lime Company and the Walsh Family
Billed as the “oldest and largest lime works in Texas”, the Round Rock White Lime Company was once the largest employer in Williamson County. The company’s founder, William Walsh, was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1837. His family left Ireland during the famine, and at age 14 William joined the British Navy. After several years he went to New York and joined the US Navy, serving on ironclad ships during the Civil War. After the war he was sent to Texas where federal troops had been assembled against Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. There he found work with the Army rebuilding the frontier forts of Texas. While working on Fort McKavett in 1868 he learned lime processing, in which limestone is heated in a kiln to make white lime, which is used in mortars, cements and plasters.
In 1874 he married Dora Koch, a German widow he’d met in Galveston, and adopted her young son. William and Dora would have 9 more children, 5 of whom lived to adulthood. In 1879 he established the Mount Bonnell Lime Works west of Austin. The plant provided lime and Portland cement for many Austin landmarks including St. Edwards University and the Texas Capitol building. Walsh Boat Landing on Lake Austin is named for him.
After discovering a superior quality of limestone in Round Rock, Walsh relocated his entire operation there in 1896. The plant also made fire brick, Portland cement, plaster, and wooden barrels to ship them in. His family followed seven years later, moving into a 2-story house on San Saba Street, which is now a historic landmark. In 1904 a barrel of the new Round Rock white lime was entered in the St. Louis World’s Fair, where it won a first-place medal. William Walsh became legendary as a founding father of the area and the proud owner of the Round Rock White Lime Co. The Round Rock Leader once noted that William Walsh was the last private businessman to hire more than 300 people in Round Rock until Michael Dell.
After William died in 1908 ownership passed to Dora and their sons, with youngest son Edward in charge of operations until 1949. Under his leadership the company hired many immigrants who had fled the Mexican Revolution between 1910 and 1920, establishing the first sizable Hispanic community in Round Rock. Edward was an entrepreneur and rancher, was elected to Round Rock’s first City Council, and was the first person in Williamson County to apply for a liquor license after Prohibition.
William’s oldest son became a local retailer, opening the WJ Walsh General Merchandise store at 121 E Main in the 1890s and The Fair at 117 E. Main in 1900. The Fair was a company store serving the White Lime Company workers. WJ Walsh built a home on West Bagdad Avenue in 1931, which was a historic landmark until it was remodeled in 2006.
The Round Rock White Lime Company remained a major employer until it closed in the 1980s. One of its quarries was redeveloped as the Round Rock West subdivision, and its excavation pits is now the pond in Round Rock West Park.