The French Legation: Home of Texas Diplomacy

Posted on Posted in June 2016

The French Legation: Home of Texas Diplomacy

French Legation house
French Legation

The 175-year old French Legation, one of few remaining original houses of the Republic, housed three diplomatic missions:

  • Monsieur Jean Pierre Isidore Alphonse Dubois, a secretary to the French Legation in Washington, as the chargé d’affaires to the Republic of Texas, representing the King of France, Louis Philippe;
  • Father Jean-Marie Odin, C.M., as he organized dioceses and petitioned Congress to return confiscated properties to the Catholic Church; and
  • Henri Castro, who worked toward establishing a French colony in Southwest Texas.

Dr. Joseph W. Robertson bought the estate and generations of his family resided there for about a century until 1940. It was the request of Robertson’s daughters, founding members of the DRT, which led to the Daughters becoming custodian of this unique and historic building. The French Legation has become an integral part of Austin culture and an important tool in teaching school children and visitors from all over the world about the history of the only state in the nation that was once a republic.

Since the State purchased the structure in 1949, naming the DRT as custodian, the cost in DRT funds and time to maintain it has been sizable. After extensive renovations, it opened as a house museum on April 5, 1956.  Later, a replica kitchen, privy and carriage house were built, furnished and maintained representing buildings originally on the site. Major renovations occurred again in 1984 to 1985. A 1997 Historic Structures Report guided maintenance as funds became available. Over the last 65 years, the Daughters expended a large percentage of their annual income to operate and maintain the site — efforts amounting to millions of dollars and hundreds of volunteer hours.

In 2007, the French Legation Museum (FLM) Committee of the DRT realized serious structural problems required urgent, expert attention. At that time, funds/grants were sought to address the problem. Despite the Governor’s mansion disaster, Hurricane Ike and the national economic downturn, the FLMC was able to proceed with a massive structural stabilization by March 2010. From foundation to roof, from gutters to shutters, all conditions contributing to deterioration of the structure had to be corrected. The nature of the task required it be completed in one continuous effort. With persistence and the help of many, that work was accomplished at a cost over $400,000, completed and paid for in 2013. The preservation process was captured with digital, video, narrative and written evidence as work was accomplished, using the process to educate thousands of visitors and friends about purposeful methods of preservation.

The next preservation phase is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2016 and will focus on the building’s interior, which will restore the entire structure and site to a stable and pristine condition guided by a comprehensive Master Interpretive Plan funded by the TPHF/THC, the Austin Community Foundation and the Moody Foundation. The income of the FLM has steadily increased over the last ten years, yet the DRT still must cover about $90K annually. The feasibility of continued fundraising for operations and preservation is an ongoing topic of discussion between the FLM Committee and the Board of Management.

Over the past year, President General Edwards has met with numerous state leaders about state support for the FLM. Those discussions continue and the DRT is grateful for the interests being shown by the Texas Facilities Chairman Harvey Hildebran.