The town of Rockford was established by legislative act in 1789 and served as the county seat of Surry County until 1850. Until 1850, Surry County encompassed present day Yadkin County. Rockford developed not only as the seat of government, but also as a commercial center with hotels, taverns, and retail stores. There were early craftsmen including a blacksmith and tinsmith as well as industry including a forge and tannery.
Many notables of the day, including Andrew Jackson, Aaron Burr, and James K. Polk were visitors in Rockford. James K. Polk’s cousin, William Polk Dobson, was one of Rockford’s most prominent citizens, serving in the North Carolina Senate for thirteen years and having the present-day Surry County seat, Dobson, named for he and his family. In 1848, Judge Richmond Pearson established a law school just across the Yadkin River (Richmond Hill Law School). He served as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1858 until his death in 1878.
From 1890 and through the early 1900’s, Rockford had a resurgence of activity with the coming of the Northwestern North Carolina Railroad. The railroad being the chief carrier of passengers, freight, and mail, Rockford resurfaced as a commercial center. The Village boasted three general stores and tobacco factory.
The gradual division of the county since 1771 had taken much of Surry for other counties. The fluctuation of the Yadkin River and hilly terrain, limited Rockford’s expansion as a major city. Eventually, the county seat was moved to Dobson and the Town of Rockford lost much of its prominence. The decline of the railroad greatly impacted commercial and industrial enterprises. Over the years, age and neglect took a toll on the town’s buildings and properties. As the late Lucy Hamlin Houck (author of the Story of Rockford) said in her 1972 book, she had been agonizing for years as she watched the town suffer a slow, painful death as “older people die out and younger people go here and yonder”.