Historic Houses: The Hammond House
Written by Bill Norton
In August of 1995 I acquired the historic house, the Hammond House from the Calvert Chamber of Commerce and the Robertson County Historical Society. The processes that brought the house to me were about as strange as the history of the house itself, and, indeed those two stories are intertwined.
Historic House: The Hammond House, TX, c.2006
It all begins during the days of Reconstruction. In 1870, by an act of the State Legislature, the county seat of Robertson County was moved to Calvert, Texas. This was the fourth county seat, and, perhaps in hopes of making Calvert the last, the Commissioners began to build a beautiful and impressive jail and had plans for a courthouse nearby. Alas, in 1879 the county seat was again moved to Franklin, this time as the result of a vote in a local election. The courthouse in Calvert was never built, but the jail, now known as the Hammond House, stands today.
After the cells were removed and sent off to the new jail in Franklin, the building was sold to a local man named Andy Faulkner who then turned it into a hotel. We believe it was Faulkner who made the major changes to the part of the building that was originally used as the cell room.
In 1885 Faulkner sold the house to Robert Brown who used it as his residence, and eventually sold it to my great grandmother, Fannie Lee Hammond, in 1909. Fannie Lee, or Nannie as she was better known, raised her family in the downstairs and rented the upstairs to boarders. My father and his brothers and sisters were all raised in the house. My grand father died in the house in 1963, and his heirs sold it to the Calvert Chamber of Commerce, which in turn deeded it to the Robertson County Historical Society. The RCHS valiantly tried to turn the building into a house museum, but eventually felt it best to deed it back to the family, and the only one interested in taking it was me (or "I" for you grammarians).
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Wait a minute; I thought it was a courthouse, not a jail?
Even the Texas Historical Commission sign in the front says it was a courthouse. Well, all my life I thought it was a courthouse also, and so have at least the last four generations of those who lived there despite the fact that two well-researched books on the history of Robertson County stated unequivocally that it was a jail.
When my great-grandmother bought the buildings in 1909 it was assumed that the main building had been the old Robertson County Courthouse building, and the smaller building immediately behind it had been the jail. That made a lot of sense actually. First of all it's hard to imagine a small county of limited resources and people building such a grand building to house criminals. Then there was the fact that two of the windows in the smaller building had bars on them. That pretty obviously makes that building a jail, doesn't it? Finally, if this was supposed to be the old jail, then where was the old courthouse? Don't you need a courthouse before you can start putting people in jail?
Well, apparently folks back then took their jails seriously. When Calvert became the county seat the first thing the County Commissioners did was to set about building a jail - the courthouse could wait. In fact for the entire time that Calvert was the county seat the courthouse was simply the upstairs of a building in downtown Calvert that they rented from Jacques Adoue. The jailhouse was the priority. The way jails worked back then was to have the sheriff and his family live in the front of the building while the prisoners stayed in cells inside a large back room. This way there would almost always be someone there to watch after the prisoners, and the sheriff's wife could prepare their meals.
Hmmm… well, that still doesn't explain the barred windows on the smaller building.
That one had me stumped for a while. One of the first things that we did when we started restoring the house was to scrape off most of the plaster that had been applied to the inside walls. This uncovered the ghosts of a couple of small windows in the cell room. One of the ghosts was quite distinct and perfectly matched the frame of the barred windows in the smaller building.
Here you can see where an original jail window was located.
Here's what I think happened. . .
After the building ceased to be needed as a jail it was converted into a hotel. The hotel owner, Andy Faulkner, had no need for the large one and a half story room that the prisoners had been kept in, so he set about making the room a full two stories and added large, impressive windows in place of the little jail windows. Faulkner was too frugal to throw the jail windows away so he reused them in the new building he was erecting in back. The downstairs of that building would serve as the kitchen and the upstairs as the manager's apartment.
Well, I don't know too much about it yet. I assume it was built by Andy Faulkner for his hotel guests, but since I haven't started any real work on it I can't be sure.
What's the deal with the big trench you dug around the inside of the first floor?
In the 1970s and 1980s an effort was made to turn the building into a house museum. One of the things they did was to tear out the pine flooring and pour a concrete slab. With the crawl space now gone there was no place for the moisture in the ground to go, so over time it was absorbed by the relatively soft bricks in a process called rising damp. This caused serious damage to the bricks and especially to the mortar. We considered removing the entire slab but decided that we could solve the problem by digging the trench to provide a cavity for the moisture to evaporate into before it reached the brick footings.
For the past ten years this magnificent house has been lovingly and meticulously restored by Bill Hammond Norton, the great-grandson of one of the early owners, Fannie Lee Hammond, and it's now ready for you.
This is no ordinary property:
As a bed and breakfast it offers these excellent features:
Visit the website for more information at: http://www.thehammondhouse.com
#1. National Park Service Historic American Building Survey, Texas A&M University, 1986. Drawn by: P Kenny, M Marshall, A Ray.
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