Surry County celebrated its 250th anniversary this year, but another special occasion occurs this upcoming weekend in the town of Rockford. The Rediscover Rockford event is in its tenth year and celebrates the history and longevity of the town with food, music, heritage crafts, tours, and guest speakers. The event is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 18.
Surry County was formed from Rowan County in 1771. Due to population growth in the region, the county was divided and Stokes County was created from this division in 1789. Due to this, the county seat moved from Richmond (near present day Tobaccoville) to a central location in the county. Rockford was chosen and would remain the county seat for 61 years, from 1789-1850. However, with the formation of Yadkin County from Surry County in 1850, the county seat moved to Dobson to remain centralized in the county and has remained there since.
The town of Rockford is located in the southern part of Surry County along the Yadkin River and gets its name from the rocky ford nearby. The new county seat was developed on 53 acres of land purchased from Moses and Thomas Ayers. As the county seat, Rockford was the most important town at the time and for residents to have access to it, adequate roads were required. Most roads at the time were trails or trapper’s paths, and much work was done in the early years to create new roads, thus giving us the saying, “all roads lead to Rockford.”
The draw of the county seat was the courthouse and government but it also served as the social hub of the county. People came to Rockford to shop, get the news, get water from the spring or wash laundry, or visit the blacksmith, tinsmith, or tanner. Also, due to the close proximity of Rockford to the Richmond Hill Law School, in operation from 1848 to 1878, many aspiring lawyers visited and worked in the town.
Rockford can also boast visitation from the three presidents from North Carolina; Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson. Jackson and Johnson both stayed in Rockford and practiced law tentatively there until their moves to Tennessee. Polk often visited his cousin William Polk Dobson.
The town continued to grow, and the introduction of the railroad spurned this further; the Yadkin Valley Railroad ran from Winston-Salem to North Wilkesboro, with a stop in Rockford. This brought passengers, mail, and freight to the town and positioned it as a commercial center from the late 1890s until the 1920s. As time marched on and businesses moved away, the town and its historic properties fell into decline.
To combat this, the Rockford Preservation Society was created in 1972 to stabilize and preserve the historic buildings in the town. In 1976, Rockford was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today when we think of Rockford in this area, we may immediately think of all of the streets and roads that have the same name, but we shouldn’t forget about the importance the town of Rockford had to the development of Surry County.
Justyn Kissam is the manager of learning at Kaleideum.