A truly historic event Can you look back and imagine what Robertson County must have been like way back when?

Dennis Phillips

Publisher

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Robertson County was founded in 1837 and named for Sterling C. Robertson, an early Texas settler who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. The courthouse, erected in 1882, is currently under renovation along with the historic jail, both are located on the historic courthouse square in Franklin. The restoration project began in 2008 with the budget process. Elected in 2007, Judge Jan Roe and the commissioners had an uphill battle and a lot to get done. The project is close to completion with the Courthouse in November-December of this year and the historic Jail in January 2015. "I want the folks in the county to know we are on schedule, under budget and excited to return our courthouse square to it's former glory'" said Roe. I took time at the beginning for this week to sit with Judge Roe and discuss the project at length, that is when I began to understand just what an uphill project this historic event had been. The Texas Historic Commission (THC) offers a courthouse restoration program. Each year, five courthouses are renovated to THC standards. Many County Judges have opted away from that program for many different reasons including loss of space due to the nature of THC's restoration criteria. With THC you must renovate a courthouse back to the original specification of that courthouse. Over the many years most Texas courthouses have had additions to allow for more office space as a county grows, Robertson County was no different. But that was just a road block for Judge Roe, one that she would see Robertson County past. A deal could be struck with THC. Robertson County had built six extra buildings on the courthouse square over the years, non-historic buildings that were grandfathered and could remain on the square. The deal was simple, allow Robertson County to renovate within reason and the old non-historic buildings would be removed from the square. THC still had a few hoops for the county to jump through, but the major block was removed. With a new annex building bought and paid for, Judge Roe could move forward attaching the courthouse to the new building. THC required that when facing the front of the renovated courthouse, the annex would not be visible. Build directly behind and just below street level, the annex met the requirement and could be attached by a walkway, both ground level and second floor height to the courthouse. In 1920, the courthouse fire gutted the historic building. Today's workers have found the original scorched timber along with the brick and mortar that holds up the old building. When the fire occurred a new roof was placed on the courthouse, it was the weight difference between the old roof that burned and the new roof that kept the courthouse from collapse over the years. "It appears as though we might have lost the courthouse if the fire did not happen," said Roe, "The load baring walls would not have maintained the weight of the roof for 130 years." In 2008, the planning stages had begun and monies were set aside during the inflow of oil revenue to the county. These monies were ear marked for the restoration project along with a new jail facility. At the last commissioners court, the new jail facility was brought back to the table and agreed to start the land buying process. "We set aside $500,000.00 way back then for the new jail. We are not starting the new jail, we just want to secure the land within Franklin before all the land is gone," said Roe. The new jail would include new offices for the Sheriff's Department which is bursting at the seems to capacity. The new jail would be a pod facility, built out for 96 beds with optional expansion in the future. But that is getting ahead of the story. First and foremost will be the completion of the courthouse and historic jail. These two completed buildings will host the entire county government with the exception of the Sheriff's Department. Looking through the various site plans, Robertson County officials will all move back into the courthouse and/or annex building which will mean that the county will no longer be renting buildings around the square. As the county renovation / restoration and planning continues, Judge Roe is confident that when all is said and done, Robertson County will be equipped to handle the future.

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