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Rotan Plant, Rotan, Texas

This early history of the Rotan Plant is taken from a 1948 company publication, National Gypsum News.

The Rotan Plant was purchased from Universal Gypsum & Lime in 1935. At the same time, the company purchased the Fort Dodge, Iowa, plant and quarry from Universal. The gypsum plant had been in operation since 1923. (The Handbook of Texas Online)

The Town of Rotan was at one time the settlement of White Rock which was organized before Fisher County in 1886. It struggled to survive until 1906 when the Texas Central Railroad staked out lots and decided to locate its western terminus there. A post office was established and the community was renamed for Ed Rotan of Waco, a major investor in the railroad. By 1914, the town had 500 inhabitants. The 2000 census recorded 1611 citizens. (The Handbook of Texas Online).

The idea for the Rotan Plant actually began with J.W. Patton, one of the early settlers of the Rotan area. Drawn by the establishment of the railroad, Patton was looking for a suitable place to rear his family. He became interested in the industrial possibilities of the "White Flat" country.

This large expanse of land adjoined the town on the south. It was known as "White Flat" because of the powdery sand that lay near the surface of the ground. Cowboys cussed it whenever they had to drive a large herd across it because the hoofs of the cattle would kick up the sand and make the air stifling. The cloud of dust would be visible for miles, an indication to everyone around that a large herd was being driven across the area.

J.W. mused as he knelt and let the white powder trickle through his fingers. He knew it was not ordinary sand. But what was it? An analysis showed that it was a sandy form of gypsum, known as gypsite, from which a good, easy spreading wall plaster could be made. With this in mind, he purchased a sizable piece of land adjoining Rotan on the south. Several years later, he began organizing the Patton Gypsum Company. Stock was sold and the company was getting ready to start operating when, for some unknown reason, the venture was dropped. J.W., thereupon, returned to the stockholders every penny they had invested.

 

Mr. Patton did, however, live to see one of the largest gypsum plants in the country begin producing plaster from the white sand, just as he had visualized some forty years ago. (1908)

Today (1948), Rotan is one of the finest plants in the National Gypsum organization. Besides making gypsite plaster, it produces enough wallboard in a month's time to build more than 5000 new homes. During the war, board plant personnel were made up mostly of women. The fair sex proved very efficient and really did an excellent job. With the emergency over, most of the women have returned to their domestic duties and have been replaced by 270 returned veterans.

The Rotan quarry, which supplies rock for the plant, is located about eight miles from Rotan. What is really different about Rotan is its gypsite. It is the only plant in the company which has a deposit of this granular type of gypsum. The gypsite deposit is part of the overall Rotan gypsum deposit.

The Rotan plant is situated at the bottom of what was, at one time, a shallow lake. Nature has left a liberal sprinkling of gypsite on the floor of this basin. Here and there, the sand is on the surface, but in most places it is buried beneath a foot or two of soil.

Before National Gypsum took over the plant in 1936, gypsite was used to make wallboard. The product did not come up to Gold Bond specifications, however, for it was too heavy and took much longer to dry that wallboard made of gypsum. From then on, gypsite was used only to make plaster.

Gypsite has superb working qualities, and plasters in the Southwest prefer it because it spreads like butter under a trowel. This type of plaster can also be warehoused indefinitely without deteriorating.