The Sunday porch: French Legation

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The front porch of the French Legation to the Republic of Texas, Austin, Texas, 1934, by Louis C. Page, Jr., via Historic American Building Survey (HABS), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This house — now the French Legation Museum — is the oldest extant building in Austin.  It was constructed between 1839 and 1841 for Monsieur Jean Pierre Isidore Alphonse Dubois, a secretary at the French Legation in Washington, D.C., who was sent to Texas to investigate the benefits of establishing relations with the new Republic of Texas.

On Dubois’s advice, Texas was soon recognized as a sovereign nation by France and he himself was appointed as the King’s chargé d’affaires.  Unfortunately — and probably before he could ever occupy his house — he became involved in a number of political, financial, and personal controversies, culminating in the so-called “Pig War.” When the Republic’s capital moved to Houston in 1841, Dubois left for New Orleans, only occasionally returning to Texas.

The style of the house is a blend of vernacular Greek revival and Mississippi Valley French. It may have been designed by carpenter Thomas William Ward, who had previously worked in Louisiana.

At the time of the 1934 photos above, the house was owned and occupied by Miss Lillie Robertson, whose father had purchased it in 1848.  After Lillie’s death, the property was sold to the State of Texas in 1945.  It was then put into the custody of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.  They restored it and opened it to the public in 1956.

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The same views in 1961, by Jack E. Boucher, also via HABS, Library of Congress.

By 1961, the Legation house was surrounded by a formal arrangement of boxwood hedges — perhaps having taken a lesson from  M. Dubois, the son of a tax collector,  who styled himself Count de Saligny after he arrived in Texas.

Today, the museum looks much the same.  Its surrounding park is 2 1/2 acres and is open to the public. Its wide gravel paths are sometimes used for games of pétanque. From the front porch, visitors can see the Texas Capitol Building and downtown Austin.

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