The Tale of the French Legation
The French Legation was built in 1841 as a private home for Alphonse Dubois, the French diplomat to the Republic of Texas, after the French monarch officially recognized the Republic of Texas as a sovereign nation. During this time, the house briefly served as the official Legation in Texas.
By December 1841, the capital moved from Austin back to Houston. Dr. Joseph W. Robertson bought the property in 1848, and he, his wife, their 11 children, and nine enslaved workers lived at the site. The Robertsons’ daughter, Lillie, lived in the home her entire life. In her later years, she opened the building to the public, offering tours of the “Old French Embassy.”
Following her death, the state of Texas acquired the house, and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) were appointed as the property’s custodian. Under management of the DRT, the house was opened to the public in 1956.
In September 2017, the Texas Legislature transferred jurisdiction and management of the French Legation, its grounds, and its contents to the Texas Historical Commission (THC), making it one of the Commission’s now 34 State Historic Sites. When transferred, the house and grounds were in a significant state of disrepair, and the property remained closed while critical improvements were made. The THC’s Historic Sites Division was responsible for overseeing the structural stabilization and weatherization of the French Legation house and constructing a new visitors center, kitchen, and cafe.
The Friends of the Texas Historical Commission raised funding for these improvements with grants from Visit Austin and the Heritage Austin Grant Program, and you can now tour the grounds. For more information on visiting the French Legation, visit the THC’s website.
The Legation Today:
A Community Favorite
As “the oldest house in town,” the French Legation is one of Austin’s most treasured and utilized historic community assets. The site’s history as a diplomatic Legation of the Republic of Texas is expressed in its role as a place that connects people and builds community through educational and leisure programs, performing arts, and events like SXSW and the Austin Film Festival.
From hosting Petanque matches and live music to serving as an attraction for visitors from across the globe (Even the French Ambassador to the United States in February 2018!), the Legation is unlike many historic sites in that it is an active part of the community and what makes Austin, Austin. Both out-of-town visitors and locals value it for its historic significance and as a place where people can gather and appreciate contemporary Austin.