Sunday, November 2, 2014

Visiting History

Yesterday, Arden and I went to breakfast in Granbury, Texas, followed by a short walk around the historic town square. There was a hot rod show going on (a small one) with about 15 cars, ranging from the early 40s to the mid 70s. All of them were beautiful with my personal favorite being a white over red 1956 Chevy Belaire. We walked through a store that sells home furnishings and knick knacks - everything from new furniture and accessories to overpriced antiques. Nice place to visit. Wouldn't want to shop there.

As we were headed back to the car I noticed the historic county jail museum was open. Given my career in corrections I had always wanted to tour it but had never found it open. Yesterday I finally got that chance.

The old jail was built with local stone in 1865. There are three cells on the second floor. One is more like a room (with a steel grate door and another, solid steel outer door.) It was used to house the female "visitors" and is behind the dark window on the left side of the picture. Originally glass with bars over it, the window was covered with sheet steel by one of the modern sheriffs who decided it was too easy to effect an escape with just bars. (It had been done effectively in the past.) The inside of the cell is pictured here. The toilet has been removed but the drain is visible under the bed.

The men were kept in a separate area on the other side of the building. The dark window on the right side denotes the men's area. There are two cells in that area that are side by side with a secure walkway in front of them. Each cell secures separately. The walkway secures with the door pictured. Inside the walkway is one toilet and one sink for all of the inmates. Each cell has two sets of bunk beds in it.

The lever pictures allowed the deputies to open and/or secure the cells from outside the secure area. It was quite modern for its time. The locking hardware was made in St. Louis. The cell walls are solid steel with barred windows on the side and on the back that allowed the deputies to see inside the cells by means of a walkway that goes around the entire structure. The windows to the outside of the building are covered with sheet steel.

The tower that is the front of the building was built specifically to accommodate gallows in the event there was a court ordered hanging. Historic records show that while no inmate was ever officially hung on the gallows inside the jail, seven inmates hung themselves with bed sheets during the time the jail was open. It is rumored some of their ghosts still live there. 

The only official hanging sanctioned by the court took place about a mile from the old jail and was done outside. It occurred in 1876. There is no explanation of why it did not take place inside the jail, although one reason may be because historical records say about 2000 people were there to witness it.

Upon entering the jail through the front door you are inside what was the sheriff's office and the intake area. Once the prisoner was processed he/she was escorted up a very narrow and steep stairway, through a large trap door and into the cell area. I can only imagine how much fun it was escorting a large, drunk man up those stairs. Sadly, I failed to get a picture of those stairs.

From that front office, through a large, heavy, steel door, was the sheriff's living quarters. All Hood County sheriffs were required to be married because it was the wife's duty to feed the inmates. Imagine how that would go over today.

The living quarters originally had a living room and two small bedrooms. The kitchen was in a separate building in the back with a dog run in between. That area was eventually closed in to make one large living room/kitchen area. The building is not air-conditioned and in the summer the heat from the stove inside the house must have made it unbearable. Tour guides say as bad as that was it was even worse for the inmates upstairs with no outside air coming in.

The jail was in operation until a new one was built.... in 1978. In 1968 the extra bedroom was turned into a dispatcher's office with the installation of a radio and phone center. I don't know how long the rule was in effect that the sheriff had to be married and his wife had to feed the inmates.

Graffiti on (and carved into) the walls is original, as are the fixtures. At least one inmate visited the jail three years in a row, consecutively, and carved the year under his name each time.

If you're ever in Granbury and the jail is open it's well worth the whopping $2 entry fee to see it for yourself. I wonder if I can get a job there? I do have some experience....

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