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History of the Sheriff's Office

Historical photo of jail

History of the Old County Jail (1935-2005) -courtesy of the Broadwater County Museum

County Jails

Broadwater County

Broadwater County's first "county jail"...the former "City Hall & Jail" originally located on the NE corner of Spruce and "C" Streets (clearly indicated on the 1896 Sanborn-Perris fire insurance maps) ... was moved to Lot number 7, Block 15, Townsite of Townsend, by order of the brand new board of county commissioners in which they instruct­ed their clerk (Commissioner's minutes dated 9/8/1897) to "notify the Mayor of Townsend to have the county jail (apparently the former City Hall & Jail) moved, and in good shape, within 30 days." The fact that this former "City Hall & Jail" building does not appear on subsequent Sanborn-Perris maps is a good indication that it was, in fact, the building ordered moved by the Broadwater County Commissioners.

This "new" county jail building was apparently built in late 1887 of wood and frame construction. A "gossip column" in the Townsend Tran­chant newspaper for August 3, 1887, states "The foundation is laid and lumber is on hand for the jail. Contractors Averill and Blessing are pushing work rapidly, and a cooler for evil doers will soon be completed."

Even before the county commissioners notified the city mayor to "move the jail," they were advertising for bids for new jail cells. On the 8th of August, 1897, three bids were opened. The first bid was from The Panley Jail Co. for four steel cells to be installed by the county for $2455.00. The second bid was from R.O. Bemiss (spl?) for four steel cells costing $3650.00. The third bid came from Henry Neill for four cells made of five ply steel, two ply of which are saw and file proof, for $3485.00. Henry Neill won the bidding, and on December 6, 1897, the "Board of Commissioners ordered a warrant drawn for Henry Neill for $2500,00 part payment on jail cells, and one for $985.00 to be delivered when the cells are in place and completed. On the 10th of December the Commissioners opened bids for a stone base for cells in County Jail.  There were just two bidders for this project, A.P. Abbott for $113.00, and J.G. Blessing for $100.00. Blessing won the bid. A 3/7/98 Commissioner's minutes notes that "Blessing was paid $100.00 for stone base for cells."

The following are some of the entries in the 1898 Commissioner's min­utes concerning the "new" jail:

3/8/98 A.J. Young, $3.00 to clean jail.
3/8/98 Chas. McQuin, $70.00 driving well at county jail. 
3/9/98 Blessing, $12.00 repairing jail.
3/10/98 Thom. Downey, $3.75 repairing jail
6/7/98 L.S. Brown, $15.00 digging post holes jail yard.
6/7/98 D.L. Ballard, $24.00 post for jail fence.
6/8/98 Bowhay Bros., $3.75 lights for jail.
6/8/98 Henry Neill, $65 steel door and frame.
9/7/87 Joe Parker, $1.50 plumbing in jail.

It becomes obvious from the above that considerable modifications were undertaken to bring the old city jail up to the standards set forth by the new commissioners.

By 1934, it was apparent that Broadwater County needed a more modern jail facility ... as well as a new courthouse. The two were built at the same time, and by the same contractor. The bid for the jail was for $11.600.00. This new jail facility, built of re-enforced concrete with red brick exterior, was constructed in 1935, and accepted by the commissioners on 10/8/1935.

Over the years there has been a misconception that the steel cells in the 1935 jail came from a "ship's brig" or "battleship's brig." Just where this rumor came from is a mystery. The truth is the original 1897 "five ply steel cells" (four in number) were incorporated into the new 1935 facility, as is clearly indicated on the original blue­-prints. These cells were only needed to be moved just a few feet from their original location "on the stone base" because the new facility was being built, in part, where the old wood jail once sat. The cells, constructed of heavy strap iron riveted together, had to be moved to their new location after the concrete floor was laid, but before the walls were built. One might say the new jail was built around the old cells.

Some changes were made in the layout of the cells at this time. Although there were still just four cells, additional strap iron mesh network walls were built to enclose a "day-room" for the prisoners. Also at this time a different cell door locking system was installed by the Champion Iron Co. of Kenton, Ohio, that incorporated a bank of hand operated levers on the outside of the cell area to protect the sheriff and his deputies.

The Commissioners, on September 5, 1935, offered the old wooden jail, or what was left of it, for sale... placing a $100.00 value on it. There were no takers as of October 8th, so one has to assume the county itself hauled off the remains.

By the end of the Twentieth Century it was evident that once again a new jail was needed ...although many citizens throughout the county did not agree. Nevertheless a new jail-detention facility was built in 2004 just south of the now "old" 1935 jail.

The Broadwater County Museum was fortunate to salvage a few items from the 1935 jail for a new 2006 exhibit. These items include the sally port doors, door off a 1897 cell, the "County Jail" metal sign, a solid steel door to the furnace room, a pair of leg irons, the Champion Iron Co. cell door control box (with levers), and a key to the same. Also photographs were taken of most of the extensive cell graffiti.

Compiled by John Stoner...2006



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