What’s the history of Rockwall’s ancient rock wall? Curious Texas goes digging
Many believe that the city of Rockwall was built on top of an ancient civilization, but others say the story of those origins don’t add up.
Rocks from the actual Rock Wall are on display at the Rockwall County Historical Foundation. These particular rocks came from the Stodghill farm and have been placed exactly how they were originally found.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)
8:00 AM on Nov 27, 2021 CST
Underneath Rockwall County and parts of Dallas County lies a mystery that has been debated by historians and geologists for decades.
Stacked mineral stones that bear resemblance to a wall are buried just below the surface throughout the county. The pale stones are long and narrow, and they appear to be separated by a 1- to 2-inch layer of sediment.
Since it was first unearthed in 1852, many have theorized that the city of Rockwall, whose namesake is the underground wall of rocks, was built on top of an ancient civilization. But others say the story of those origins don’t add up.
That’s why a reader asked Curious Texas: “What’s the history of Rockwall’s ancient rock wall?”
Rockwall County Historical Foundation Museum Curator Carolyn Holt holds up photos that show the Rock Wall during two different excavations at the Rockwall County Historical Foundation. The smaller photo was taken in 2012 and shows the wall extends at least 15 ft deep into the ground. The larger photo is from the Stodghill farm property excavation. (Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)
Mark Russo, former president of the Rockwall County Historical Foundation and a Rockwall history buff, has wondered about this for years. Russo said he’s been deeply involved with the wall and its story since 2005.
“When you see how perfect it looks and how the stones align … I’ve never seen such consistent behavior,” he said.
Benjamin Boydstun, Terry Utley Wade and William Clay Stevenson discovered the rocks while looking for well water on Wade’s property. The rock formations looked like long bricks and resembled a giant wall.
Patti Canup’s family has lived on the property where the rock wall was first discovered for six generations. Canup has been a Rockwall resident since she was 7 and doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t know about the formations.
She recalled that people from Southern Methodist University and Arlington State, now the University of Texas at Arlington, came to the city because of the rock wall.
“When I was a kid, I grew up about a mile from the original site,” Canup said. “My dad would give them permission to roam over the property looking for outcroppings of the wall. So, I think I’ve always known about it.”
Canup hasn’t seen the original wall in person, but she said that, in 1936, part of the wall was excavated on the property for viewing for more than a decade.
At the Rockwall County Historical Foundation Museum, a map outlines the possible locations of the rock formations. There are about 16 outcroppings throughout the county, Russo said, with some underneath Lake Ray Hubbard.
=Rockwall County Historical Foundation Museum Curator Carolyn Holt holds up a map that connects known sections of the rock wall. The known sections of the wall encompass 20 square miles.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)
The wall’s origins sparked theories, including ones of an ancient civilization, evidence of UFO presence or American Indian settlements, Russo said. Some even theorized that a possible supervolcanic eruption may have covered the possible ruins.
At the Rockwall County Historial Foundation Museum, curator Carolyn Holt said many artifacts and clues point to a possible ancient settlement. In some of the museum’s collections, photos depict “corners” of the alleged buried city that signify that people may have carved it out.
John Geissman, a professor emeritus of geology at the University of Texas at Dallas, tested a set of rocks for an episode of the History Channel’s America Unearthed in 2012. Geissman is a geophysicist, meaning he studies the magnetic properties of rocks.
Geissman said the rock formation is called a sandstone dike, which is created when sediment and minerals build up into fractures of the earth. Rocks formed in dikes are almost always younger than the surrounding rock, and sometimes these dikes are formed after earthquakes or when faults occur that force liquified material upwards.
A piece of the Rock Wall lays on the floor at the Rockwall County Historical Foundation.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)
In the case of Rockwall’s rock wall, the sandstone is made of quartz that has been cemented by additional quartz, which makes it extremely hard in contrast to the surrounding rock, Geissman said.
While sandstone dikes are not uncommon, Geissman said he thought Rockwall’s rock formation was unusual when he saw it for the first time.
Not only were the sandstone dike stones thin, but they could also be traced for long distances, which are unusual characteristics for dikes. He also noticed that the pattern of the dikes was similar to that of bricks.
“The fracture pattern in these features is quite impressive,” he said. “It’s not irregular in character, and I think that’s a big factor in resulting in the human thought mechanism that took place when these features were discovered.”
Rocks have the ability to permanently hold the Earth’s magnetic orientation when they are formed. Geissman tested the magnetism in the rocks and found that the magnetization of the rocks, or the time in which they were formed, were the same, concluding that the formation is natural.
“If these had been a stack of bricks put in place to form these impressive planar features, each brick would have been put in place in a random fashion,” he said. “What we found was that, by and large, the magnetization in the sandstone dikes is pretty uniform in direction.”
Geissman is sure that the rocks are natural, but he also said that it’s important for scientists to keep an open mind about how the formation may have been used.
These particular rocks came from the Stodghill farm and have been placed exactly how they were originally found. (Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)
Russo agrees, and he said he believes that a prior civilization may have manipulated the rock formation to fit their own needs, perhaps in the form of a temple or a fortress. Russo said he has traveled across the country to various states to see if similar formations exist with no luck.
Russo said there may not be a way to find out how the rocks were formed and what they may have been used for. But it’s all part of the rock wall’s appeal.
“The mystery has been well over 150 years, and it also has been a great community pride,” Russo said. “I think it’s more than just a rock wall. I think it has become a symbol of what our community is, and it’s that we’re something that’s unmovable that will last generations.”
Those curious to see what the rock wall looks today like will only be able to find re-creations. At the Rockwall County Historical Foundation Museum, a set of rocks were excavated from the Stodghill farm and placed on the side of the museum. Another set was also placed in front of the Rockwall County Courthouse, although Russo said one rock — which sits vertically — was set incorrectly.
Other formations have either been covered or are on private property.
Rockwall City Hall has commissioned an artist to create a statue of the discovery of the wall, Russo said. The plan is to place the statue in the town square in the next year.
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