Franklin County Jail, ca. 1905-1924.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Franklin County took steps to ensure that its jail building on East Nash Street in Louisburg, which had been completed in 1875, could continue to house inmates safely and humanely. After 1975, when a new correctional facility opened, citizens spearheaded an effort to develop a historical museum in the old jail.
The Franklin County Commissioners funded several measures to improve security. In the summer of 1898 they paid a contractor to build a twelve-foot-high wooden fence around the facility. The commissioners in 1909 signed a contract with the Pauly Jail Building Company of St. Louis to erect a new cell room in the jail. At the end of 1912, the B. F. Smith Fire-Proof Construction Company of Washington, D.C., furnished plans for the remodeling of a portion of the jail's first floor for the accommodation of a new cell. Work included the installation of new windows, a concrete floor, a "mob-proof door," a coal stove, and a "tool proof" cage with cells that held four folding bunks.
By 1924, the jail required major improvements. This need arose at a time when the county had assumed considerable debt for the construction of roads and schools. In January, citizens who attended a public meeting called by the county commissioners opposed the construction of a new jail and courthouse. They passed a resolution recommending that "the jail be remodeled on the inside by the putting in of concrete floors and the making of the same safe, sanitary and comfortable for the prisoners with a central heating plant."
Acting on this advice, the commissioners in February 1924 voted to accept the plans submitted by the architectural firm of Benton & Benton in Wilson to renovate the jail. The plans called for a new roof, wiring, plumbing, and heating equipment. Contracts for this work, to be supervised by Robert E. Garbee of Louisburg, were signed in April. When work began in June, however, it was discovered that some of the walls were defective. The Franklin Times reported on June 20 that the commissioners had met earlier that week to inspect the jail and "being advised by the architects and workmen ordered the walls torn down. As it stands now preparations are being made to construct a new jail from the ground, the cost of which nobody knows, but is variously estimated at from $20,000 to $40,000."
On June 30, the commissioners held a public meeting to discuss options. Some people, including the editor of The Franklin Times, thought that the county should build a new courthouse with a jail on the top floor. That option would have cost approximately $150,000. Most of those in attendance opposed any change to the courthouse and supported the construction of an inexpensive jail. Based on the discussion that occurred, the commissioners appointed a committee of representatives from throughout the county to investigate the possibility of working jointly with the town of Louisburg to erect a new jail. There is no mention of this, however, in the minutes of the Town of Louisburg.
It is unclear from existing records, but it appears that officials ultimately decided to remove the second story of the old building, leaving the original stone walls of the first floor; to replace the wooden floors with ones of concrete; and to build a new second story of brick covered in stucco. In any case, officials viewed the jail as being new. On March 23, 1925, the commissioners met for "the purpose of inspecting and receiving the new jail." It had not been completed, however, so the matter was deferred to the next regular meeting.
Franklin County continued to use this facility until 1975, when prisoners were moved to a new correctional facility on Market Street. The Franklin County Historical Society, which had been organized in 1964, worked for many years to establish a historical museum in the old jail. The members made considerable progress in 1990, shortly after Dr. Sarah I. Davis assumed the presidency of the organization. For a time, artifacts were displayed in the facility, but these were later removed. Other attempts have been made to restore the structure, but none has been successful.
Published in The Franklin Times on November 13, 2014.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wishes to thank Sammy Beasley and Joe Elmore for providing source material for this article.
Photo credit: Old Franklin County Jail, East Nash Street, Louisburg, courtesy of Sammy Beasley.