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.
Seat Of Robertson County Government
04 23 N / -96 31 09 W
FM 979 & FM 46)
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)
Mary Katherine Thompson Galloway
County Historical Survey Committee
Historical Marker Dedication
Of Owensville Courthouse
Owensville had the
being the third county seat of Robertson County -- serving after the
- 1850) of the frontier village of Franklin (now called "Old Franklin,
distinguish it from the town of Franklin existent in the 20th century)
the time of the courthouse at Wheelock (1850 - 1855). The
frequent changes occurred for practical reasons: "Old
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
then the Indian frontier, where its buildings containing records could
burned in an Indian raid. The apprehensive voters therefore
county seat to Wheelock, near the old San Antonio Road, the Brazos
the thicker settlement.
Almost as soon as
taken, however, a vocal minority began to agitate for yet another
the charge that voters in the northern part of the county were
against, as they had a great distance to go in order to visit the
courthouse. In 1854, Judge Samuel B. Killough, in response to
that the county seat be moved near the center of the county, instructed
commissioners to determine the precise center and "secure the best
of land within five miles for the purpose of a new county
geographic center was determined as a place on Walnut Creek within a
land owned by David Love. Evidently, Love was a patriot, for
land to the commissioners for the purposes of the county seat, and the
thereupon known as "Love's donation." On undeveloped acreage
that time, the site was about four miles north of the later site of
the town of Franklin), and about eight miles east of the settlement of
(later removed to Calvert). The spot was 15 miles within the
the county, on a road leading from Morgan to Sterling.
There were no
on the spot
at the time, for the motive of situating the county seat equidistant
more remote corners of the county was political. The first
the town were to arrive within the year of the opening of the
were to be led by the families of public officials who needed to live
A town site was
by Jesse R.
Grover, to include the courthouse and environs, but the plat was never
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
improvements, including streets. Love was an old settler,
married to Mary
Dunn Robertson, daughter of James and Isabella Dunn, members of the
contingent who settled at Staggers Point in the early days.
On November 19,
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
in 1855, the county records were to be retained in Wheelock while
worked on the new courthouse. The structure was to be
virtually a replica
of the second courthouse, completed just three years earlier in
It was to be a wooden building, two stories high, and 40 feet square,
"On good oak
with four blocks on each side, and row through the center, and the
stairs to run outside the building ..."
In the meantime, a
were moving into the vicinity of the new courthouse. These
were mostly officials and their families along with storekeepers and
who anticipated business developments when the courthouse opened for
business. One resident who was neither a current officeholder
storekeeper was gentleman farmer Harrison Owen (1803 - 1896).
when the third courthouse site was designated, Owen occupied a place of
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)
evidence of "his superior ability as a public recorder." Owen
may have had several reasons for moving to the new county seat, and one
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
many of his supporters of other days, who foregathered to talk of
state affairs. At some time during 1855 or 1856, the County
named the town of Owensville in his honor. For a time, he
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
On August 19,
met for the last time at Wheelock.
contractors, A. L. Brigance had taken five days extra for completion of
on the courthouse, but it was ready for acceptance on August 5,
his work, he was paid $2,750.00. At the end of the
meeting of August 19 in Wheelock, the Chief Justice (County Judge)
county records moved to Owensville. The courthouse in
Wheelock was locked
and a "for sale" sign tacked to the door.
There was as yet
Owensville, so Sheriff M. L. Clay that day ordered the three prisoners
jail at Wheelock to be kept there until a new jail could be completed
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
out, this jail was not to be completed and accepted until October 15,
A special term of
was held in
Owensville on August 28, 1856. The official family on hand
included: Sheriff Clay; A. L. Brigance, Chief Justice; J. J.
Associate Justice; T. J. Winkler, County Clerk; C. W. Bratton, Clark
L. D. Drennan, County Commissioners. There was a ceremonial
dedication for the courthouse.
of the county
officials, residents soon making homes in Owensville included the
of: O. M. Addison, J. B. Britt, Alexander Calvert, A. M.
Crawford, H. M. Glass, W. W. Hurley, Lewis Harris, C. D. Little, A.
M. McMordie, William Morrow, J. S. Parish, W. B. Turner, W. M.
Weatherby, and J.
Some of the
doctors, educators, and merchants of the area soon moved to the new
seat. J. T. Perkins and his wife Margaret Jane operated a
mercantile store. The family of Sheriff M. L. Clay also had a
store. Mrs. Clay was to continue to run it even after her
killed in the line of duty in 1858.
Owensville was on
mail and stage
line between Houston and Waco, and at the junction of roads that ran
Central Texas. Freighters found ready employment and were
visiting here. There was also eager talk of the possibility
railroad. The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, & Colorado
Railroad had been
built out of Houston toward the interior of the state, with a view
ultimate extension up to Dallas. This plan would put it
County, according to the prophets.
overlooked. Townsmen were to see two schools flourish
active in financing and building schools included: C. W.
Bratton; A. L.
Brigance; Alexander and James Calvert; M. Keesee; B. F. Moore; Lewis
Aaron Wood; and John Young. There is a record of a trustee
1856 for the Owensville Academy. By 1858, it was the largest
school in the
county, with 24 students. W. L. and Martha Glass were
Churches were well
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
men in the
town were several physicians. A well remembered one was Dr.
Brooks (? - 1862), a native of Tennessee, who had moved to the county
1850. He became a leading planter and merchant as well as an
doctor. Another medical leader was Dr. J. M. Moore.
At one time,
there were six physicians in practice here.
In 1858, Texas and
enjoyed prosperity. In 1859, crops excelled previous records;
hides were bringing high prices. Five times as many bales of
produced in Robertson County that year than in any previous year.
The Texas Almanac
described the county seat in general terms, with little attention to
improvements on a charming rural environment (it would appear that the
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
between the time of promise and the beginning of adversity and
September of that year, the courthouse in Owensville rang to oratory
leading citizens as they deplored the national political situation
promised to see sovereign states coerced into betraying their heritage
freedom. "The high ceilings echoed the voices of Hamman and
swearing devotion to the South." When Abraham Lincoln was
President of the United States in November of that year, there was
prospect that the nation could remain unified. Robertson
began to gear itself for the defense of states' rights.
Three days after
the Union on February 23, 1861, the courthouse in Owensville was
activity as the County Court took steps to issue arms and equipment to
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
of the county who joined a company raised by Dr. Belvedere
were to be other companies raised by K. Smith, N. P. Richardson, and S.
Killough (whose troops were called the Wheelock Home Guards).
from the county joined with units from other nearby counties.
In May 1861, the
ordered 50 guns; 25,000 cartridges; 2,000 pounds of lead; ten kegs of
25,000 gun caps. Although it was planned that this order of
go to the company raised by Captain Townsend, it actually went to the
Captain Brooks. The county was soon contributing $350 toward
of the men of the Townsend company.
The women of
wove, and knitted -- garbing the men who were to go forth and
used cloth obtained from the mills of the state penitentiary to tailor
uniforms worn on the battle fields by the soldiers from the
were blue, trimmed in yellow, as there was at first a general state of
about military clothing for the confederate soldiers.
In the courthouse,
appointed to look after the needs of the poor -- a category of the
almost unknown before the men were pulled away from their families to
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
Walnut Creek and allowed its builder to charge fees ranging from 75
"six mules or an ox wagon loaded" to three cents for "loose
cattle." The court in 1862 appointed the following patrolmen
order: J. M. Brittell, Josephus Cavitt, B. F. Church, George
Robert Gray, J. H. Griffin, Edward Jackson, J. M. Moore, T. P. Tindall,
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
Much that transpired was never described to the people back
"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
all," as he described it, "on September 16 & 17,
He continued, "but I guess it is best they don't know."
Indeed, they did
details, but the civilians back at home were to know over and over
deep sorrow of irreparable losses. The Commissioner's Court
practice of posting vital statistics (birth and deaths) in the
Owensville and the death list was long. Probate proceedings
were held in
the courthouse for the estates of many war victims, including: Francis
Dr. Belvedere Brooks, James Chance, John Feeney, James Fisher, Job
Fisher, C. C.
Hearne, Robert Henry, William Henry, James McMillan, M. A. Mitchell,
Rutherford, James Scofield, and William Talbot, among others.
War ended in
military rule that followed in Texas brought to Robertson County a
carpetbagger-scalawag regime that disheartened the substantial
In time, the misrule in Owensville turned the stomachs of the citizens
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
behind the scenes, and were kep in office by those manipulators.
Judge I. B.
office in 1868, was unpopular with white residents, and reacted with
when a disgruntled landowner challenged him to a fight over the matter
to the county record books. Ellison and the commissioners had
records moved to the new town of Calvert.
The Houston &
Railway line was extended to Calvert in 1868, and Owensville thereupon
isolated because it was bypassed by all the more important commercial
enterprises of the times. Although Calvert was not officially
county seat until July 13, 1870 by the state legislature, it was
county seat from the time of the Ellison court order in 1869.
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
county seat in name for fifteen years, but in actuality served no more
thirteen years as the place of administration of county
affairs. It became
county seat in 1855, but had no actual county business transacted
courthouse until late August of 1856; it remained county seat until
but had no county business transacted in its courthouse after some date
1869. The government just slipped away, in contrast to the
closure of the courthouse in Wheelock in 1856.
stores and homes in the town of Owensville were moved to more favorable
locations. Within two years, the site was still a village,
it ceased to exist as any sort of settlement. Its location is
1973 only by the large cemetery that still is there.
The county seat of
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
the "ghost" site of Owensville derives from the distinction of the
place as contrasted with its present state of solitude.
county seat in an era of critical moment in Texas history. It
beginning and the end of the Civil War, which caused one type of
perish and another to replace it. In Owensville's
difficult decisions were made, lofty sentiments expressed, high hopes
confidence enunciated. From that point, an army was furnished
provisioned; families were given subsistence while the men folk were
Confederate uniform and fighting and dying on battle fields.
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
Calvert in that time also spread to Owensville and doomed the few
oldest and largest cemetery in the county. Prior to the
mid-1850s, the old
Texan families usually buried their dead on private property, near
homes. Old Franklin had no community cemetery, and neither
before the founding of the Owensville Cemetery, giving its one present
distinction as a "first" for the county.
Baker, J. W., A
County, Texas, copyright 1970 by the Robertson County Historical Survey
Committee, printed in Waco by the Texian Press.
Deed Records of
Texas, Office of the County Clerk, Franklin, Texas.
Recollections Of Robertson County, Texas, Anson Jones Press, Houston,
Ward, History Of
Robertson County, Master's Thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1931,
manuscript copy in main library, University of Texas.
has been edited by Deolece Parmelee, Director of Research, Texas
Commission, to conform with requirements of the Commission, September
old log jail building still stands in 2001 in a pasture behind the
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
It is lying nearby.