Construction on the Jefferson County jail began in the spring of 1909 shortly after the previous facility burned to the ground. By December, the new two-storied brick building was complete. Until 1971, it served as both a jailhouse for inmates and a residence for the jailer (the sheriff or a deputy) and his family. After that time, all inmates and officers transferred to a more modern facility. Several county departments used the old jail for office space for many years, (some continue to occupy a portion of the building today) but later abandoned the building. In 2013, community leaders chose to save the site from disrepair and to reintroduce it as a local history museum.
On the ground floor, the sheriff (or deputy) and his family slept in one of three small bedrooms like this one. They also shared a living room, dining room, kitchen, and one bathroom. While from caring for his family, the sheriff’s job also included providing bedding and meals for the inmates upstairs. Most of the time, his family prepared the same menu for themselves and the men and women behind bars.
The booking room was also on the ground floor, separated from the family dining room by a barred iron door. This was the sheriff’s office and receiving room for new inmates. He or one of his deputies would record an inmate’s information and lock any illegal contraband (such as moonshine or firearms) in a closet with a solid iron door.
At the height of the stairs, inmates were sorted into one of two rooms. Laws and custom deemed it necessary to divide inmates of different races, sending blacks to the main cellblock (nicknamed the “bullpen”) on the left , and whites went to a smaller set of cells in a separate room to the right.
The jailer reserved the larger cellblock for African Americans because they made up the majority of arrests. Each of the six cells contained four metal beds and a toilet. Two sinks and a cold-water shower were available for all the men in the cellblock to share. A slot in the outer wall of the cellblock allowed them to receive two meals a day.
During the day, inmates walked within the space between the cell walls and the jail’s exterior brick walls. They could peer through one of several windows to catch a glimpse of the world outside. They often recorded their thoughts and feelings on the painted brick walls as they waited for release.
Since law and custom demanded jailers to separate different races, white inmates stayed in a room away from the main cellblock. The space was smaller and only contained two cells, because whites made up a minority of total arrests. Both cells contained two metal beds, a toilet, and a sink. During the day, they could walk the space between their cells and the jail’s exterior brick walls. From there, they could use the single shower in the corner or look out of the windows to watch life outside the jail.
Female inmates stayed in a detached building behind the jail. Arrests of women were rare, and the building contained only two large rooms. The cell on the ground floor was usually for black inmates, and the cell on the top was for white inmates. The women slept on cots rather than the iron-framed beds like those in the men’s cells, and they had access to a single shower in both rooms. Occasionally, female inmates helped with custodial duties around the jail and even ran errands in town.