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Profiles in Historical Places in East Austin : French Legation Museum

Jul 15, 2008
The French Legation Museum provides a uniquely historic experience. Both a historic site and a house museum, the story behind the establishment of the museum is fascinating, and helps to illuminate a way of life experienced by the residents of old Austin before Texas was a state. Visiting the house and grounds, with its carefully chosen artifacts, brings the story to life. With many cultural events, educational programs, and supplementary information on their web site, the museum preserves and perpetuates a unique piece of Austin's colorful heritage.

The word "legation" originally referred to a diplomatic representative office just below the status of embassy. Sent by the French Legation of Washington D.C. in 1840, Monsieur Jean Pierre Isidore Dubois de Saligny intended to establish the French Legation of the fledgling Republic of Texas. Renting quarters on Pecan (now Sixth) Street at the corner of Guadalupe, de Saligny was appalled with Austin's lack of urban sophistication, evidenced most egregiously by the pigs a local farmer allowed to run free in his yard. He determined to build a home and office worthy of a French diplomat.

De Saligny found himself at odds with the locals, both culturally and politically, and he was soon recalled from his post, leaving his servants behind in the building he had designed. A short time later, when the seat of the government was moved from Austin, the building was abandoned. When Texas was annexed as a state, the structure and its surrounding grounds were sold, eventually being purchased by John and Lydia Lee Robertson, who raised their eleven children in the house. When the last of those children died, in 1940, the property was placed under the custodianship of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who have operated the site as the French Legation Museum since 1949.

Restoration of the property began in 1953, with an effort be faithful to the period in which it was built. Although only three pieces of furniture currently on view belonged to de Saligny, many pieces remain from the Robertson family's ownership of the home. Gardens and outdoor landscaping, although not authentic to the bare dirt yards of early Texas, provide a refreshing oasis of green in a busy city, and make this one of the premier locations for weddings and other formal functions.

The French Legation Museum is committed to education, providing guided tours in addition to having curriculum supplements for elementary and middle school teachers available on their web site. During the summer, the museum often hosts a history-based summer camp, allowing children to immerse themselves in 1880's Austin. They offer different cultural events as well, including a twice monthly tournament of the traditional French game petanque on the lawn, and evening concerts under their beautiful old oak trees. Their annual Bastille Day celebration features French music and food, and their association with the Alliance Franaise d'Austin helps perpetuate a unique piece of Central Texas heritage.
About the Author
Ki looks with buyers interested in Austin Texas real estate . Buyers can search for homes online using a Austin Texas MLS search or read updates on the market on his blog covering Austin real estate.
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