The French Legation now serves as a period museum and host to a variety of community events.
|Location||802 San Marcos St.
Austin, Texas, USA
|NRHP reference #||69000213|
|Added to NRHP||November 25, 1969|
It is among the oldest extant frame structures in Austin. The building and its surroundings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. The French Legation is also a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, a City of Austin Historic Landmark, and a Texas State Antiquities Landmark.
On June 12, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 3810, to transfer the French Legation to the Texas Historical Commission, effective September 1, 2017. Concurrent to the transfer of the property, the state agreed to allocate $1.56 million in emergency deferred maintenance funds to address the most pressing structural problems of the Legation building.
After Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, France was one of two countries (the other being the United States) to officially recognize Texas as an independent state. The Treaty of Amity, Navigation, and Commerce between the two countries formalized this recognition in September 25, 1839. France assigned Monsieur Jean Pierre Isidore Alphonse Dubois, a secretary to the French Legation in Washington, to be the new chargé d'affaires to the Republic of Texas, representing the King of France, Louis Philippe.
The legation structure was completed in 1841, approximately a half-mile east of the city center. Dubois gave multi-course dinner parties in the cabin he rented downtown as his mansion was built, and worked with legislators to bring French settlers to Texas. Count de Saligny's stay in Austin was not, however, without conflict. Dubois and the inn-keeper Richard Bullock were enemies. His conflict with Austinites even came to blows in the so-called 1841 Pig War, when his butler killed several havoc-wreaking pigs belonging to Bullock and was in turn assaulted by Bullock.
After the young nation's capital was temporarily moved to Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas, in 1842 during the Archive War, Dubois' house was abandoned. The French government recalled Count de Saligny in 1846, when the Republic of Texas was annexed by the United States.
The mansion was later occupied by John Mary Odin, first Bishop of the Diocese of Galveston, and then Moseley Baker, a veteran of the Texas Revolution, in 1847. Dr. Joseph W. Robertson bought the estate from Baker and generations of his family resided there until 1940.
During Dubois' time in Austin he held at least three enslaved people. The Robertson family enslaved at least nine people at their property, using their work to supply food and to do household chores.
The State of Texas purchased the site from Robertson's heirs in 1945. At that time, the state placed the property in the custody of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT), who established the French Legation Museum in 1949. The DRT restored the legation building and grounds in a manner similar to other house museums in the mid-twentieth century. The collection included few original objects, and the interior finishes chosen during the restoration conflict with later paint analysis. The site opened to the public on April 5, 1956.
The view of the Texas State Capitol from the front porch of the French Legation is one of the Capitol View Corridors protected under state and local law from obstruction by tall buildings since 1983. Since the mid 1990s, the professional staff has worked to include the surrounding East Austin community in its programs and interpretation.
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