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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses


County Seat - Franklin, Texas

Robertson County has had four courthouses:
1837 (Old Franklin),
1850 (Wheelock),
1856 (Owensville)
and 1882 (Morgan, renamed Franklin.)
Calvert was the county seat between 1870 and 1879

See The Courthouses of Robertson County

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Franklin TX Restored 1882 Robertson County Courthouse
The 1882 Robertson County courthouse in Franklin
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2014


by Terry Jeanson

Robertson County was officially organized in 1837, named for empresario and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence Sterling Clack Robertson.

The first county seat of Franklin (later to be known as Old Franklin), named for pioneer Will Franklin, was formed at the center of the county. The first courthouse and jail were completed there in 1839. By 1846, sixteen other counties were carved from lands belonging to Robertson County, leaving the county with its present boundaries.

By 1850, Old Franklin was becoming depopulated and the county seat was moved about twelve miles southeast to Wheelock near the Old San Antonio Road, which was a more heavily populated area. Formed in 1833, Wheelock was named for its founder, Eleazer Louis Ripley Wheelock. The county’s second courthouse was completed there in 1850. The new county boundaries left the county seat too far to the south and in 1854 county residents petitioned for a new county seat near the center of the county.

In 1855, the town of Owensville, named for the first county clerk of Robertson County, Harrison Owens, was platted five miles northwest of Old Franklin and the county seat was moved there in 1856. Land for the county’s third courthouse was donated by settler David H. Love and the county’s chief justice, A. L. Brigance was hired to build it. The courthouse, a virtual replica of the Wheelock courthouse, was a two-story, forty foot square wooden structure with an exterior staircase. Court continued to be held in Wheelock until the Owensville courthouse was completed in 1856.

After the Civil War, the county was in political and racial upheaval. In a move to assert their political power, Black leaders, with White Republican backers, including Reconstruction Judge I. B. Ellison, managed to wrestle the county seat away from Owensville in 1870 and move it to Calvert, about ten miles southwest of the site of Old Franklin. The town, platted in 1868, was named for its earliest settler, Robert Calvert. Another attractive aspect of Calvert was the arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railway in 1868. A house was rented for $50.00 a month for the county clerk’s offices and later, in 1876, the second floor of a brick commercial building was used for government purposes. A courthouse was never built in Calvert, but an impressive jail was completed in 1875. (The jail, still standing and known as the Hammond House today, is often confused for an old courthouse, partly due to an historical marker in front of it designating it as an old courthouse!)

In 1872, the town of Morgan, named for an International Railway Company official, was founded at the center of the county near the site of Old Franklin. In 1879, the county seat was moved one last time to Morgan which was renamed Franklin to honor the name of the original county seat. After housing the court in temporary quarters, the county’s fourth and current Second Empire style courthouse was constructed in 1881 and officially accepted in 1882. Designed by noteworthy Austin architect F. E. Ruffini, the three-story stone building had corner pavilions with Mansard roofs and a clock tower dome with cresting and a pediment over the south side entrance. The building was decorated with a cornice, corner quoins, dormers, bulls-eye windows, segmented arched lintels with keystones over the windows and a small balcony over the south entrance. The building strongly resembled two of Ruffini’s other courthouses, the 1877 Williamson County courthouse and the 1882 Hays County courthouse (both no longer standing.) Ruffini also designed the 1882 jail which still stands on the west side of the courthouse.

A remodeling that began in December of 1923 replaced the buildings original roof with a flat one that was surrounded with “Alamo” parapets and the interior was gutted and reconstructed. (The current county judge, Jan Roe, told me that this remodeling actually saved the building from deteriorating so that a future restoration would be possible.) Annexes were built to the north and west sides of the courthouse in the 1970s and the old jail was also expanded. Starting in 2009, the annexes were demolished and a new rear annex, matching the stone and style of the 1882 courthouse, was completed in 2011. A restoration of the 1882 courthouse’s original roof was completed in 2014 along with the restoration of the 1882 jail.

Terry Jeanson,
February 16, 2014

Sources: The Handbook of Texas Online, The Texas Historical Commission’s County Atlas – Texas National Register Program at http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-desig.htm, Wanted: Historic Jails of Texas by Edward A. Blackburn, Jr., Hearne Democrat, Friday, December 21, 1923, "Court House Improvements - Started Last Monday", Hearne Democrat, March 8, 1973, "Commissioners Approve Courthouse Remodeling" and Mary Katherine Thompson Galloway, Robertson County Historical Survey Committee: Owensville Historical Marker Dedication - June 23, 1974 at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~txrober2/GhostTownsOwensville.htm

The Present Robertson County Courthouse
Franklin, Texas

Date - 1882
Architect - F. E. Ruffini
Style - Second Empire
Material - Stone

See Robertson County Courthouse Historical Marker

Photographer's Note:
Subject: Robertson County Courthouse restored!
The exterior of the Robertson County courthouse has been restored to its 1882 condition. Only the first floor and the stairwell on the interior was historically restored because they could not afford to lose the office space by restoring the two-story district courtroom on the second and third floors, which used to span the width of the building. (Because of this, the county was not eligible for grant money from the Texas Historical Commission and the project was fully funded by the county.) The upper floors were renovated and the courtroom reconfigured with the judge's bench in front of the windows over the south side entrance (just on the third floor instead of the second floor where it was when originally built.) All of the previous additions were demolished and a new three-story rear addition, built to compliment the 1882 courthouse's style and stonework, was completed in 2011. The 1882 jail on the west side of the courthouse is also being restored. An open house was held on January 25, 2014 but Judge Roe told me that a rededication ceremony is being planned for sometime in the spring. You can bet I'll be there! - Terry Jeanson, February 15, 2014

TX - Robertson County Courthouse Clocktower
The restored clock tower over the south entrance.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2014

TX - Robertson County Courthouse annex
The 2011 annex, designed by Tyler architects Sinclair & Wright
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2014

TX - Robertson County Courthouse cornerstone
Original cornerstone on the left side of the south entrance.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2014

TX - Robertson County Courthouse staircase
East side entrance and staircase as it looked in December of 2008.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson

TX - Robertson County Courthouse staircase
East side entrance and staircase after the restoration, February 2014.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson

TX - Robertson County Courthouse district courtroom
Third floor district courtroom as it appeared in December of 2008.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson

TX - Robertson County Courthouse district courtroom
Third floor district courtroom after the renovations, February 2014.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson

Franklin TX -  Robertson County Courthouse Historical Marker
Historical Marker
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, November, 2004

Historical Marker Text

Robertson County Courthouse

Erected in 1882 at a cost of $30,000, this white limestone building is the fourth to serve as Robertson County Courthouse.

In 1879 the county seat had been moved for the fifth time, to Morgan, on the International & Great Northern Railroad. But because Texas already had a post office named Morgan, the town was renamed Franklin for the first county seat, which was named for pioneer Will Franklin.

Plans for a courthouse were begun that year; and in 1881 the construction was started, under F. E. Ruffini, architect. Since then the building has been remodeled.

Robertson County courthouse, Franklin Texas
Robertson County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT

Franklin TX Robertson County Courthouse
Robertson County Courthouse in December 2008
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson

Franklin TX Robertson County Courthouse
"The east side and rear view of the courthouse. Modern additions have been built to the rear (right side of this picture) and west sides of the original courthouse."
- Terry Jeanson, December, 2005

Franklin TX Robertson County Courthouse front entrance
Robertson County Courthouse Entrance
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, July, 2007
Both Ruffini Brothers (Oscar and Frederick) frequently used Mansard roofs and such was the case here. The roof in Franklin was removed during a 1924 remodeling. F.E. Ruffini also designed the 1882 Robertson County jail.

Photographer's Note:
The architect, F.E. Ruffini, designed similar looking courthouses in Williamson (1879) and Hays (1882) counties. - Terry Jeanson

Former Calvert Courthouse

Former Calvert Courthouse historical marker, Calvert, Texas
Former Calvert Courthouse Historical Marker
Photo courtesy Stephen Michaels, May 2008

Franklin, Texas
Robertson County
Robertson County Jail
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