Welcome!County Coordinator is Jane Keppler.
County Co-Coordinator is Jean Huot Smoorenburg
If you have any questions or would like to submit information for Robertson County, please email one of the above.
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TXGenWeb Robertson County Court
R O B E R T S O N COUNTY COURTHOUSE & JAIL
31 01 30 N / -96 29 09 W, [Hwy. 79 & FM 46, park near railroad tracks], Map
Texas Historic Marker reads: "This community was established in 1872 and named Morgan for a railroad official. Located on the right-of-way of the International Railway Company, the town contained a depot and three stores in its first year. By 1879, the town had 200 residents and voters transferred the county seat from Calvert to Morgan. The community applied for a post office in 1880. Another Texas post office was named Morgan, so the town name was changed to Franklin after the name of the original county seat. A stone courthouse, designed by Frederick Ernst Ruffini, was completed in 1882. The town's first newspaper, the Franklin Weekly, was published by J. A. Keigewin. By 1885, Franklin had three hotels, three churches, and two gristmills. Mineral springs attracted people to the area for many years. A cemetery was formally established in 1880 at a site where several graves were already in existence. The community's first school building, a frame structure, burned in 1894 and another was erected. The First National Bank of Franklin was charted in 1905; the First State Bank was established in 1913. A Carnegie Library was built and equipped with an auditorium. By the 1970s, Franklin, an incorporated community, had a mayor-council form of city government."
31 01 36 N / -96 29 14 W, [Courthouse Square], Map
Plans for a courthouse were begun in 1879 and in 1881 construction began. Robertson County's original three-story Second Empire-style courthouse, designed by Frederick Ernst Ruffini, was completed in 1882 at a cost of $30,000. This dressed white limestone building is the fourth building to serve as Robertson County Courthouse. The courthouse was substantially remodeled in 1924 in the Mission Revival style with brick Alamo parapets and tin eaves at the cornices. Efforts are underway in 2003 to try to restore the courthouse building to its original 1880s design. The courthouse sits in the middle of Franklin's picturesque courthouse square.
| Robertson County Jail
31 01 36 N / -96 29 14 W, [Courthouse Square], Map
Built in 1881, the Robertson County Jail is a three-story, dressed limestone, Victorian structure with low hipped tin roof. Modified over the years, the building is T-shape in plan. Although a modern county law enforcement facility has been added to the landscape in recent years, the old jail sits next to the courthouse in Franklin's courthouse square.
| National Register Of Historic Places
The present Robertson County Courthouse was designed on a classical Texas plan in Second Empire style by architect Frederick Ernst Ruffini, who employed this mode in numerous other courthouses. The exterior dimensions of the building are 81 feet, 11 inches by 66 feet, 5 inches. Specifications called for the first story to be 13 feet high; the second to be 11 feet with a courtroom height of 20 feet; and the third story was to be 12 feet in the clear. In rectangular form, the plan was zoned for offices on the ground level and district courtroom on the second. Two corridors intersecting in the center provided circulation to the offices. The courtroom was a two-story space centered on the second floor. Offices located in the pavilions occupied the third level space not in the upper section of the courtroom. Remodeling has changed the locations of several of the interior walls. When completed, the courthouse was an outstanding example of Second Empire style. The south (main) facade is a five-part composition with corner pavilions, center pavilion, and connecting components all crowned with Mansardic roofs relieved with dormers made of galvanized iron. Rising above the center was a triangular pediment surmounted by a Mansardic roof with convex curvature, containing clocks. The cast and west fronts are comprised of three part compositions, also originally crowned with Mansardic roofs. The north facade consists of one prominent mass flanked by pavilions. The exterior masonry work is noteworthy. Above a foundation of rubble stone set with lime mortar all the rock work, except the trim, was pitched-faced in ashlar pattern. Door and window jambs were smooth cut stone with one and one- fourth inch margins. The Renaissance stylistic vocabulary was fully exploited in the details. On the ground story, cut stone pilasters frame the walls of the pavilions. On this level windows containing double-hung sashes are spanned with stilted arches with pronounced keystones. The south entrance is marked by a Roman arch with cut stone voussoirs. This was originally flanked by pilasters with Corinthianesque capitals which are now gone. These supported an entablature and balcony which also have been removed. Other doorways were spanned with stilted arches. A cut stone stringcourse separated the base-story walls from the upper level walls. Designed as compositional units, the exterior walls of the courtroom and the flanking two levels of offices continued the Renaissance theme. Pronounced cut-stone quoins contrasted with the pitched-faced ashlar masonry -- as below. Openings on this level are spanned with Roman arches of cut stone comprised of four voussoirs and a pronounced keystone. Windows originally rising uninterrupted for two stories in the center three openings of the south side expressed the courtroom space while spandrels in the openings of the pavilions express the multilevel arrangement of offices. Sheet metal was used extensively on the exterior both emotionally and decoratively. A heavy galvanized-iron cornice featuring prominent modillion terminated the walls. Two pediments were also fabricated from this material as were the dormer windows. Galvanized iron also was employed the chimney caps and down spouts. Stamped zinc was specified for several other ornamental features. The flat decks of the roofs and roofs of the pediments were all covered with tin. However, for the steep sides of the Mansard roofs, dark colored slate from Vermont or Virginia was specified.
Although none of several Robertson County Courthouse was ever damaged by flames, Ruffini was familiar with losses from fire in other counties and provided record. The vaults are built entirely of bricks. Double walls with an airspace between provide insulation against intense heat. Each masonry vault records is covered with a barrel vault of semicircular cross-sectional profile, and floors were finished with hard pavince brick. Other interior details are also noteworthy. Hung on iron acorn-tipped butts, the doors are pine with four panels and bronze knobs. Ventilation of the interior spaces was facilitated by transoms located above these doors. The wooden trim of the interior was typical of the period. For the stairways, specifications called for octagonal newel posts, balusters, and handrails to be black walnut. Pine was used throughout for other interior millwork. The courtroom and halls were wainscoted to a height of three feet with narrow matched and beaded "ceiling stuff" capped with a molding. Changes in the exterior include the removal of all the original roofs and cornices. These have been replaced by parapets and overhangs covered with tile, all suggesting Spanish Renaissance character. On the south the entrance has been simplified in design and a porch has been added on the east. An annex with ransom ashlar mansonry walls has been made on the north and west. This should be excluded from National Register status.
Located on the northwest corner of the square, the jail was on a T-shaped plan. The main section (bar of the T) of the jail is 49 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The ground floor story height is 12 feet in the clear. On the ground floor a central hall provides circulation to the kitchen, a large room (parlor?), and the cell rooms. Containing cells, the second story of this section is 11 feet clear. Facilitating segregation of prisoners, a rear extension (stem of the T) is 27 feet wide and 36 feet deep with 18 feet clear from floor to ceiling. Cells 7 feet by 8 by 7 are of hardened iron and steel, "saw and file proof," manufactured the P. J. Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Company of St. Louis, Missouri. These were moved from an old jail in Calvert. In addition the other miscellaneous iron work was reused. As in the courthouse, the walls of the jail were pitched faced ashlar. While the design of the building is relatively straightforward subtle details enhance the work. On the second floor of the main section opening are spanned by lintels; on the ground story stilted arches span the openings. Simple lintels also span openings of the rear extension. Other decorative details enhance the main building. Pilasters of cut stone emphasize the corners. These terminated under a cornice with heavy brackets. Several additions have been made to the jail. These include a porch on the south and a new brick wing located on the west. These additions should be excluded from National Register status.
The Robertson County Courthouse and Jail posses both architectural and historical significance. Although remodeled, the courthouse still displays much of the original detail work of a fine Second Empire style building. Situated on a public square in the center of the community, these structures historically have served the governmental functions of the county throughout the twentieth century. Located in East Central Texas, Robertson County was organized in 1838, during the period in which Texas was a republic. It was named for Sterling C. Robertson, an impresario and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and originally included a considerable amount of land that is now a part of surrounding counties. The present county boundaries were established in 1846. As often happened in Texas, the location of the Robertson county seat was changed several times. The original location was Old Franklin, but the county seat was moved to the town of Wheelock in 1850, after the present boundaries were established. However, since this community was near the southern county line, it was not favorably located to serve county government. Following an election in 1854, wherein residents voted upon the county seat question, the site of government was transferred to Owensville and in 1870, by an act of legislature, it was moved to Calvert. Then in 1879, county government was moved to Morgan, a town that had been established in 1871, adjacent to the International-Great Northern Railroad and the town name was changed to Franklin. The seat of government has remained permanently in this community which is near the geographical center of the county. Today the population of Franklin is over 1,000. In 1855, while continuing to hold their meetings in Wheelock, a new courthouse in Owensville was contracted with A. L. Brigance, who, at the time, was also the chief justice. The work on this building was completed the following year. In 1856, a lot in Owensville was set aside for a jail and the old courthouse in Wheelock was sold, after which county government was officially transferred to the new courthouse in Owensville. A jail which also had been contracted with James b. Grant and Alexander Calvert in 1855 was also completed in 1856. during the following year, an oak fence evidently was placed around the public square and several contracts were awarded for repairs to both the courthouse and jail. In 1869, money was set aside to purchase shingles and lumber to repair the courthouse and bids were requested for a new jail, but these were laid aside since the seat of government was moved to Calvert.
After moving to the new location, a house was rented for $50.00 per month to house the clerk's offices. In 1879, Court was hold in an unidentified building with floors covered was sawdust. Meanwhile, new construction on both a courthouse and a jail was delayed. In 1876, the county the second story of a brick building (evidently a commercial structure) for governmental purposes. Finally, during that year a new brick jail was commenced. Geo V. McClintick, M. D. McGee, D. R. Coleman, and W. H. McGee were the contractors of the building costing $11,000, which was destined to be used as a jail only for a short time. Shortly after the 1879 election determined that the county offices would be moved to Franklin (Morgan), where temporary quarters were again occupied, county commissioners began considerations for new buildings and within two months had accepted plans prepared by F. E. Ruffinni of Austin for a new jail and sheriff's office. After advertising for bids in the Galveston Daily News, the contract to build the new jail was awarded to James P. Smith for $11,485. It was built on the "jail square" (public square). The jail was completed and accepted by the county that same year and the old jail in Calvert was sold. Meanwhile, the county officers were again located in the second story of a rented building. Evidently satisfied with architect Ruffini's services on the new jail, in 1881, the commissioners' court authorized F. E. Ruffini to develop plans for a new courthouse with walls of Austin limestone for a cost of $30,000 or less. J. B. Smith was awarded the contract to complete the building within ten months. Late in 1881, the county officials commended both the architect and contractor for their fine work and accepted the courthouse. An iron fence installed two years later completed the nineteenth century work.
After serving county functions for over four decades, county officials determined to remodel the building. Hix McCanless was the architect and the contractor was Babe Wilson. It was evidently during this work that the annex was made and the roof lines altered. Nonetheless the building retains much of its historic character and it should be preserved for the benefit of future generations.
| Robertson County
The first meeting of the commissioners court in Franklin was held March 8, 1880. Judge T. J. Simmons presided and was authorized to sell lots and blocks belonging to the county. At this meeting I. R. Overall was authorized to select the location for the erection of a jail "on the courthouse square." The contract for the construction of the jail was let to Captain James Smith. R. E. Ruffini was employed to serve as architect for the project. The jail was completed in due time and it was considered a fine example of modern architecture. Its frontal width was forty-nine feet and its depth twenty feet. It was a two-story structure and the cells in the prison were "7'x8' wide and 7' high." The installed interior was of hardened iron and steel, some of which came from the old Calvert jail. The walls were of grooved stone, smooth on top, with close joints and the exterior was finished masonry. The court paid Smith $862.00 for his work and issued a voucher to Ruffini in the amount of $302 for his supervision of the project. Commissioners, including the two Negroes in membership, were so pleased with the jail they authorized Smith and Ruffini to prepare plans for a courthouse that would not cost more than $30,000.00. In January, 1881, John E. Crawford succeeded Simmons in office as county judge. Two months later, on March 16, 1881, a contract was let to Smith and Ruffini for the erection of the courthouse and the work was completed on January 7, 1882. When the court met in March, Judge Crawford insisted that the records show the gratitude of the people to the men who had built "the most handsome and splendid structure in the State." The minutes of the commissioners court read as follows: "It is ordered by the court that we express our entire satisfaction with the said building considering it one of the most handsome and splendid structures in the State. We heartily recommend F. E. Ruffini as one of the most accomplished architects in the State of Texas. In reference to Captain Smith, the Judge wrote: Be it ordered and resolved that the court extend to Captain J. B. Smith a vote of many thanks and to recommend him to the public as a gentleman in whom the utmost confidence can be placed as a builder of rare ability."
1851 - 1885
Frederick Ernst Ruffini was the architect of the Robertson County courthouse and jail in Franklin. Information about Mr. Ruffini is online at Frederick Ernst Ruffini. The Texas State Library & Archives Commission & the Alexander Architectural Archive of the General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin both have information about these buildings in their collections, including some floor plans and architectural drawings.
Texas State Archives & Library Commission. F. E. and Oscar Ruffini: An Inventory of the Ruffini Collection. Information is online at www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/40060/tsl-40060.html. Of particular interest is the following quote from the narrative accompanying the Ruffini Collection inventory:
Alexander Architectural Archive of the General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin. F. E. Ruffini: An Index To His Collection. Information about this collection is online at www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utaaa/00080/aaa-00080.html. Processing is not completed. Please see archival staff for more information.
Although F. E. Ruffini and his architect brother Oscar are sometimes identified as Italians, culturally they were Germans. Italian ancestors had emigrated to Kamenz, in what is now Germany, about five hundred years before the brothers were born.
1868 - 1938
Hix McCanless (alternate spellings might include McCandless or McCanliess) was the architect for the 1923 - 1924 renovations to the Robertson County Courthouse. During this period, the courthouse was totally gutted and completely rebuilt inside. Major modifications were also made to the exterior of the building. Hix McCanless was born on March 20, 1868 in Pulaski, Giles County, TN. He was the son of Stephen S. & Mary X. Bass McCanless. Young Hix left Tennessee in the 1870s and settled with his parents in Ennis, Ellis County, Texas. Mr. McCanless was educated in the Ennis Public Schools and began the study of architecture at an early age. He attended Texas A&M at College Station. Hix McCanless was the leading designer and builder in Ennis during the first part of the 20th century. He designed buildings with various architectural styles. These included: Barrington House, City Hall, John Rowe, Knights of Pythias, Telfair House, McCanless-Williams House, Meredith-McDowal House, two bungalows, and other structures. Many of these buildings can be viewed at Historic Ennis Tour. Mr. McCanless was well known for combining architectural elements from various styles and periods. The city plat records reveal that he was also involved in surveying and platting several additions between 1913 and 1925, as both a civil engineer and later as the city engineer. The Templeton-McCanless Historic District in Ennis is partially named for him. Hix McCanless' brother, Ernest, was a prominent architect in Dallas and constructed significant buildings there. Several McCanless family members are buried in Ennis' Myrtle Cemetery.
- 1924 Courthouse Renovations
Hearne Democrat, Friday, December 21, 1923, "Court House Improvements - Started Last Monday"
Hearne Democrat, Friday, July 11, 1924, "District Court Opened in New Court House Monday"
Hearne Democrat, Friday, July 18, 1924, "New Court House, Source of County Pride"
- 1974 Courthouse Renovations
Hearne Democrat, December 14, 1972, "Extensive Remodeling for Courthouse Building"
Hearne Democrat, March 8, 1973, "Commissioners Approve Courthouse Remodeling"
Hearne Democrat, April 25, 1973, "Commissioners Court Lets $565,484 Remodel Job"
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Page Modified: 23 July 2015
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Copyright © 2014-present byJane Keppler. This information may be used by individuals for their own personal use, libraries and genealogical societies. Commercial use of this information is strictly prohibited without prior written permission from Jane Keppler. If material is copied, this copyright notice must appear with the information and please email me and let me know. Neither the Site Coordinators nor the volunteers assume any responsibility for the information or material given by the contributors or for errors of fact or judgment in material that is published at this website.