Robertson County TX

 
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G H O S T   T O W N S   O F   R O B E R T S O N   C O U N T Y

See also Ghostly Haunts Collection

"Ghost Towns Of Robertson County" is a collection of interesting facts concerning the earliest settlements in Robertson County.  Although all traces of these early towns no longer exist, their memory is honored and preserved with Texas Historical Markers.  This booklet is published as a special edition for the 1975 Robertson County Springtime Pilgrimage and in celebration of the bicentennial year.

-- Mrs. Katherine Galloway

Owensville
A Seat Of Robertson County Government

31 04 23 N / -96 31 09 W
(junction FM 979 & FM 46)
TopoZone Map

Texas historic marker reads: "Site Of Owensville. Robertson County's third county seat was located here, 1855 - 1869, on land given by D. H. Love (1816 - 1866). The town was Owensville, named for Harrison Owen (1803 - 1896), who was the first county clerk, 1838 - 1847. Public officials, doctors, lawyers, businesses moved here and town thrived. It was on the Houston-Waco mail, stage, and freighting road. As Civil War county seat (1861 - 1865) this place armed and dispatched soldiers and cared for civilians. After Houston & Texas Central Railway bypassed Owensville in 1868, county records were moved to Calvert. Owensville Cemetery, oldest in the county, marks townsite." (#10936/1974)

By Mary Katherine Thompson Galloway
Robertson County Historical Survey Committee
Owensville Historical Marker Dedication
June 23, 1974

Sketch Of Owensville Courthouse

Owensville had the distinction of being the third county seat of Robertson County -- serving after the time (1838 - 1850) of the frontier village of Franklin (now called "Old Franklin, to distinguish it from the town of Franklin existent in the 20th century) and after the time of the courthouse at Wheelock (1850 - 1855).  The relatively frequent changes occurred for practical reasons:  "Old Franklin" had been the logical choice in 1838, for it was a population center, but in the next few years it failed to attract more population and by 1849 was on what was then the Indian frontier, where its buildings containing records could easily be burned in an Indian raid.  The apprehensive voters therefore moved their county seat to Wheelock, near the old San Antonio Road, the Brazos River, and the thicker settlement.

Almost as soon as that step was taken, however, a vocal minority began to agitate for yet another changed, i=on the charge that voters in the northern part of the county were discriminated against, as they had a great distance to go in order to visit the courthouse.  In 1854, Judge Samuel B. Killough, in response to a demand that the county seat be moved near the center of the county, instructed commissioners to determine the precise center and "secure the best donation of land within five miles for the purpose of a new county seat."  The geographic center was determined as a place on Walnut Creek within a league of land owned by David Love.  Evidently, Love was a patriot, for he offered land to the commissioners for the purposes of the county seat, and the site was thereupon known as "Love's donation."  On undeveloped acreage at that time, the site was about four miles north of the later site of Morgan (now the town of Franklin), and about eight miles east of the settlement of Sterling (later removed to Calvert).  The spot was 15 miles within the interior of the county, on a road leading from Morgan to Sterling.

There were no settlers on the spot at the time, for the motive of situating the county seat equidistant from the more remote corners of the county was political.  The first inhabitants of the town were to arrive within the year of the opening of the courthouse, and were to be led by the families of public officials who needed to live near the courthouse.

A town site was platted by Jesse R. Grover, to include the courthouse and environs, but the plat was never recorded in the deed records of Robertson County -- perhaps for lack of confidence in the future of the town, or perhaps for some other reason.  David H. Love (1816 - 1866) donated the acreage that was needed for the courthouse and other public improvements, including streets.  Love was an old settler, married to Mary Dunn Robertson, daughter of James and Isabella Dunn, members of the Irish contingent who settled at Staggers Point in the early days.

On November 19, 1855, A. L. Brigance was awarded the contract to build Robertson County's third courthouse at the new site in the center of the county.  Completion was to be made by August 1, 1856, and while the new central site was officially county seat from this date in 1855, the county records were to be retained in Wheelock while Brigance worked on the new courthouse.  The structure was to be virtually a replica of the second courthouse, completed just three years earlier in Wheelock.  It was to be a wooden building, two stories high, and 40 feet square, --

"On good oak blocks, with four blocks on each side, and row through the center, and the stairs to run outside the building ..."

In the meantime, a few residents were moving into the vicinity of the new courthouse.  These inhabitants were mostly officials and their families along with storekeepers and the like, who anticipated business developments when the courthouse opened for business.  One resident who was neither a current officeholder nor a storekeeper was gentleman farmer Harrison Owen (1803 - 1896).  By 1855, when the third courthouse site was designated, Owen occupied a place of special regard as the former holder of the office of County Clerk.  He had been the first in that office and held it for nine years, from 1837 - 1846.  It is said that his records were carefully written; they remain today (1973) as evidence of "his superior ability as a public recorder."  Owen may have had several reasons for moving to the new county seat, and one of them may have been his concern for the political well-being of the area.  At any rate, he remained interested in politics and was host in the new settlement to many of his supporters of other days, who foregathered to talk of county and state affairs.  At some time during 1855 or 1856, the County Commission named the town of Owensville in his honor.  For a time, he operated a boarding house here.  A post office was opened in 1856, but the name of the postmaster of that day in no now known.  The town was never incorporated.

On August 19, 1856, the county court met for the last time at Wheelock.

In the time-honored manner of contractors, A. L. Brigance had taken five days extra for completion of his work on the courthouse, but it was ready for acceptance on August 5, 1856.  For his work, he was paid $2,750.00.  At the end of the commissioners court meeting of August 19 in Wheelock, the Chief Justice (County Judge) ordered the county records moved to Owensville.  The courthouse in Wheelock was locked and a "for sale" sign tacked to the door.

There was as yet no jail in Owensville, so Sheriff M. L. Clay that day ordered the three prisoners in the jail at Wheelock to be kept there until a new jail could be completed at Owensville.  James Grant and Alexander Calvert took the contract to build the 18 by 14 foot jail there.  It had an iron door entrance and a second floor, 8 by 10 feet, spiked down with forty penny spikes.  As it turned out, this jail was not to be completed and accepted until October 15, 1856.(1)

A special term of court was held in Owensville on August 28, 1856.  The official family on hand that day included:  Sheriff Clay; A. L. Brigance, Chief Justice; J. J. Hodge, Associate Justice; T. J. Winkler, County Clerk; C. W. Bratton, Clark Cobb, and L. D. Drennan, County Commissioners.  There was a ceremonial opening and dedication for the courthouse.

Besides the households of the county officials, residents soon making homes in Owensville included the families of:  O. M. Addison, J. B. Britt, Alexander Calvert, A. M. Cochran, Robert Crawford, H. M. Glass, W. W. Hurley, Lewis Harris, C. D. Little, A. McMillan, A. M. McMordie, William Morrow, J. S. Parish, W. B. Turner, W. M. Weatherby, and J. T. Young.

Some of the leading lawyers, doctors, educators, and merchants of the area soon moved to the new county seat.  J. T. Perkins and his wife Margaret Jane operated a general mercantile store.  The family of Sheriff M. L. Clay also had a general store.  Mrs. Clay was to continue to run it even after her husband was killed in the line of duty in 1858.

Owensville was on the mail and stage line between Houston and Waco, and at the junction of roads that ran across Central Texas.  Freighters found ready employment and were steadily visiting here.  There was also eager talk of the possibility of a railroad.  The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, & Colorado Railroad had been built out of Houston toward the interior of the state, with a view toward its ultimate extension up to Dallas.  This plan would put it across Robertson County, according to the prophets.

Cultural institutions were not overlooked.  Townsmen were to see two schools flourish here.  Patrons active in financing and building schools included:  C. W. Bratton; A. L. Brigance; Alexander and James Calvert; M. Keesee; B. F. Moore; Lewis Pierce; Aaron Wood; and John Young.  There is a record of a trustee election in 1856 for the Owensville Academy.  By 1858, it was the largest school in the county, with 24 students.  W. L. and Martha Glass were teaching there.

Churches were well attended.  Between 1856 and 1861, great hopes were entertained for the future of Owensville.  People from remote places moved there, built homes, and opened businesses.  There was a large hotel for the accommodation of visitors.  At it peak, Owensville was home to at least 300 families.

Among the professional men in the town were several physicians.  A well remembered one was Dr. Belvedere Brooks (? - 1862), a native of Tennessee, who had moved to the county in 1850.  He became a leading planter and merchant as well as an outstanding doctor.  Another medical leader was Dr. J. M. Moore.  At one time, there were six physicians in practice here.

In 1858, Texas and Robertson County enjoyed prosperity.  In 1859, crops excelled previous records; cattle and hides were bringing high prices.  Five times as many bales of cotton were produced in Robertson County that year than in any previous year.

The Texas Almanac for 1860, described the county seat in general terms, with little attention to man's improvements on a charming rural environment (it would appear that the compiler was writing from hearsay):

"Owensville is a pleasant village of recent birth, situated on rolling prairies over which are scattered tree affording good shade and surrounded by a beautiful grove ..."

The year 1860 marked the cleavage between the time of promise and the beginning of adversity and doom.  In September of that year, the courthouse in Owensville rang to oratory from many leading citizens as they deplored the national political situation which promised to see sovereign states coerced into betraying their heritage of freedom.  "The high ceilings echoed the voices of Hamman and Feeney, swearing devotion to the South."  When Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November of that year, there was little prospect that the nation could remain unified.  Robertson County quickly began to gear itself for the defense of states' rights.

Three days after Texas seceded from the Union on February 23, 1861, the courthouse in Owensville was throbbing with activity as the County Court took steps to issue arms and equipment to its men who were going to the defense of the South.  These preparations involved 75 men in a company raised by William P. Townsend and 95 from the southwestern part of the county who joined a company raised by Dr. Belvedere Brooks.  There were to be other companies raised by K. Smith, N. P. Richardson, and S. B. Killough (whose troops were called the Wheelock Home Guards).  Some men from the county joined with units from other nearby counties.

In May 1861, the county court ordered 50 guns; 25,000 cartridges; 2,000 pounds of lead; ten kegs of gunpowder; 25,000 gun caps.  Although it was planned that this order of supplies would go to the company raised by Captain Townsend, it actually went to the unit of Captain Brooks.  The county was soon contributing $350 toward clothing 70 of the men of the Townsend company.

The women of Robertson County spun, wove, and knitted -- garbing the men who were to go forth and fight.  They used cloth obtained from the mills of the state penitentiary to tailor the first uniforms worn on the battle fields by the soldiers from the county.  These were blue, trimmed in yellow, as there was at first a general state of confusion about military clothing for the confederate soldiers.

In the courthouse, trustees were appointed to look after the needs of the poor -- a category of the population almost unknown before the men were pulled away from their families to go into the battlefields.  The County Court also hired men to haul goods -- flour and cloth -- for the Confederacy, and sought out still other men to work on the road and bridges and keep them passable in the heavy traffic of the war effort.  The commissioners authorized the operation of a toll bridge across Walnut Creek and allowed its builder to charge fees ranging from 75 cents for "six mules or an ox wagon loaded" to three cents for "loose cattle."  The court in 1862 appointed the following patrolmen to keep order:  J. M. Brittell, Josephus Cavitt, B. F. Church, George W. Franklin, Robert Gray, J. H. Griffin, Edward Jackson, J. M. Moore, T. P. Tindall, T. R. Webb, and W. H. Wheelock.

The flower of the manhood sent into the battlefields began to be destroyed.  News came of the death of Dr. Brooks at the Battle of Shiloh.  There were other deaths reported.  Much that transpired was never described to the people back home.  "People at Owensville and Wheelock wouldn't believe what has happened," wrote one of the soldiers from Robertson County after he had participated in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg).  "The worst of all," as he described it, "on September 16 & 17, 1862."  He continued, "but I guess it is best they don't know."

Indeed, they did not know the details, but the civilians back at home were to know over and over again the deep sorrow of irreparable losses.  The Commissioner's Court followed a practice of posting vital statistics (birth and deaths) in the courthouse at Owensville and the death list was long.  Probate proceedings were held in the courthouse for the estates of many war victims, including: Francis Barziza, Dr. Belvedere Brooks, James Chance, John Feeney, James Fisher, Job Fisher, C. C. Hearne, Robert Henry, William Henry, James McMillan, M. A. Mitchell, George Rutherford, James Scofield, and William Talbot, among others.

War ended in 1865.  The military rule that followed in Texas brought to Robertson County a carpetbagger-scalawag regime that disheartened the substantial citizens.  In time, the misrule in Owensville turned the stomachs of the citizens against any procedures that might emanate from that place.  Radicals rode high in the saddle.  The ignorant and illiterate sought and held public offices for which they were unfitted, and they served as cats' paws for vicious manipulators behind the scenes, and were kep in office by those manipulators.

Judge I. B. Ellison, appointed to office in 1868, was unpopular with white residents, and reacted with resentment when a disgruntled landowner challenged him to a fight over the matter of access to the county record books.  Ellison and the commissioners had the county records moved to the new town of Calvert.

The Houston & Texas Central Railway line was extended to Calvert in 1868, and Owensville thereupon became isolated because it was bypassed by all the more important commercial enterprises of the times.  Although Calvert was not officially designated county seat until July 13, 1870 by the state legislature, it was functioning as county seat from the time of the Ellison court order in 1869.  The courthouse and the jail in Owensville were sold to residents of the vicinity.  The lumber and other materials in the courthouse were used in the construction of homes.

Thus it was that Owensville was county seat in name for fifteen years, but in actuality served no more than thirteen years as the place of administration of county affairs.  It became county seat in 1855, but had no actual county business transacted within its courthouse until late August of 1856; it remained county seat until July 1870, but had no county business transacted in its courthouse after some date in 1869.  The government just slipped away, in contrast to the ceremonial closure of the courthouse in Wheelock in 1856.

When the courthouse was vacated, stores and homes in the town of Owensville were moved to more favorable locations.  Within two years, the site was still a village, but eventually it ceased to exist as any sort of settlement.  Its location is marked in 1973 only by the large cemetery that still is there.

The county seat of Robertson County was to continue its migrations until 1880, when "New Franklin" became permanent county seat.  Owensville has a place in history, however, as the third of the five county seats of Robertson County.

The need for historical marking at the "ghost" site of Owensville derives from the distinction of the place as contrasted with its present state of solitude.  Owensville was county seat in an era of critical moment in Texas history.  It saw the beginning and the end of the Civil War, which caused one type of civilization to perish and another to replace it.  In Owensville's now-vanished courthouse, difficult decisions were made, lofty sentiments expressed, high hopes and rash confidence enunciated.  From that point, an army was furnished and provisioned; families were given subsistence while the men folk were wearing the Confederate uniform and fighting and dying on battle fields.  In its heyday, Owensville also had the only academy in Robertson County.  In its era, it was a center of learning.  Tragedy also occurred here as late as 1872 - 1873, for the yellow fever epidemic that decimated the population of Calvert in that time also spread to Owensville and doomed the few families still living here.

The Owensville Cemetery is the oldest and largest cemetery in the county.  Prior to the mid-1850s, the old Texan families usually buried their dead on private property, near their homes.  Old Franklin had no community cemetery, and neither did Wheelock, before the founding of the Owensville Cemetery, giving its one present feature a distinction as a "first" for the county.

Bibliography

Baker, J. W., A History Of Robertson County, Texas, copyright 1970 by the Robertson County Historical Survey Committee, printed in Waco by the Texian Press.

Deed Records of Robertson County, Texas, Office of the County Clerk, Franklin, Texas.

Parker, Richard Denny, Historical Recollections Of Robertson County, Texas, Anson Jones Press, Houston, TX, 1955.

St. Clair, Lawrence Ward, History Of Robertson County, Master's Thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1931, manuscript copy in main library, University of Texas.

Note:  Mrs. Galloway's paper has been edited by Deolece Parmelee, Director of Research, Texas Historical Commission, to conform with requirements of the Commission, September 1973.

(1) Editor's Note:
The old log jail building still stands in 2001 in a pasture behind the historical marker in Owensville.  It is now being used as a barn.  The building is still intact but for the metal bar door which was open to the elements.  It is lying nearby.

 

 

 

 

 

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Page Modified: 1 Mar 2013

   

 


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