The Dr. Francis Office is an exceptionally refined, academic version of a building type once found in rural county seats and at dusty crossroads throughout Alabama. Buildings like this front-gabled, one-story, frame structure, which typically housed professional offices, newspapers, craftsman’s shops, or even banks, were rooted in America’s colonial past, with antecedents still to be seen along the Atlantic coast and in outdoor museums like Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village. While the facades were generally simple and utilitarian, anonymous craftsmen sometimes managed a surprising transformation of this basic commercial building type.
Such is the case with the Dr. Francis Office, where the gable is pushed forward to create a full-blown miniature classical portico. Here, the source for the detailing of the entablature and the fluted Doric columns underneath is Asher Benjamin’s Practice of Architecture, first published in 1833. The doorway, with its segmentally arched transom, cleverly simplifies a design for a “frontispiece” presented as Plate 29 in the same book. This doorway and the flanking twelve-over-twelve windows provide a generous expanse of glass along the recessed facade.
The two-room building was erected about 1850 for Dr. James Carrington Francis to use as an apothecary and medical office. Leaving his native East Tennessee to settle in the new county seat of Jacksonville in 1837, Dr. Francis practiced medicine in the community for some fifty years. Originally his office faced the courthouse square but was later moved one block west to its present location. Acquired in 1970 by the Alabama Historical Commission, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places the same year, and subsequently restored as a medical museum. Though still a museum, the Dr. Francis Office was ceded to the City of Jacksonville in 2015 when declining revenues no longer made it possible for the State to maintain the structure. It is open by appointment.
General John H. Forney Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy. Historic Jacksonville.Privately published, 1952.