Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Caswell County Jail

Caswell County Jail

One of the most interesting buildings in Caswell County is the old Caswell County Jail. Built in the first decade of the 1900's, the Jail served the county's prisoner housing needs until 1973, when a new jail was constructed.

After 1973, the old jail was used for a variety of short-term purposes, but by and large, the building stood unused, neglected, and empty. The ravages of time, weather, and lack of maintenance began to tell on the old structure, which soon developed symptoms of severe deterioration.

In 1985, the Caswell County Historical Association negotiated a 25-year lease on the building from the County Commissioners. The Bartlett Yancey Future Farmers of America Chapter was enlisted to renovate the structure, repair damage, and restore the building as near as possible to its original condition. One hundred and thirty members of the Chapter volunteered over 6,300 person-hours to the project, with donations of time, equipment, and materials by a number of Caswell County businesses and residents.

One of the first measures taken by the FFA was to demolish a boiler room and a women's cell block that had been added to the building, and which were not part of the original architecture. Broken windows that had allowed the elements inside were replaced, and damaged interior structures were removed in preparation for the renovation.

Rotted flooring was replaced with new wood, donated for the cause by a local resident. Students spent hours patching holes in the walls and ceilings. The many layers of paint that covered much of the inside were laboriously removed. The exterior of the building received significant attention, with students replacing damaged brickwork and repairing and repainting the tin and shingled roof. Throughout the renovation project, the original architectural design of the old Jail building was closely followed.

As a result of the many hours of work volunteered by the FFA Chapter, visitors to the old Jail today can see how it looked in its early years of use. Adding to the authenticity of the Jail are many pieces of period furnishings loaned and donated by the County and local residents.

The old Caswell County Jail is a two-story structure with the cell block located on the upper floor and reached through a heavy steel door at the rear corner of the building.

The cells have been left very nearly in the condition they were in when the renovation project began, with the cold steel walls covered with years of graffiti, the artwork and philosophy of the countless prisoners housed there.

The lower floor served as quarters for the jailer (and often the sheriff filled the job as jailer) and his family and consisted of a foyer, three rooms, and a kitchen (where meals for the jailer and his prisoners were prepared).

One of the most intersting aspects of the Jail is the indoor hanging cell. When the Jail was built executions in North Carolina were handled at the county level, and the indoor hanging cell was included in the design of the Jail apparently to provide for such executions. However, soon after the Jail was completed responsibility for executions was assumed by the State; and there is no record of anyone meeting the final fate by way of the trap door in the upper-floor cell. Later, the space below the hanging cell was used to hold female prisoners (until a separate cell block for women was added in the 1950's).

If you have stories about this old Jail (hopefully not as a result of an over-night stay), please share them. Photographs are always welcome -- like the one below from the 1960's:

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