Jailhouse Museum

1140 C STREET, FLORESVILLE, TX 78114
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES • RECORDED TEXAS HISTORIC LANDMARK • STATE ANTIQUITIES LANDMARK
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Wilson County Jailhouse Museum restoration advances

By Gregory Ripps | Wilson County News | May 3, 2022

The final push is on to complete restoration of the front section of the Wilson County Jailhouse Museum.

In recent days, workers have focused on the floors and woodwork in the part of the former jailhouse in downtown Floresville that once served as living quarters for the county sheriff and his family.

“I love working on it,” said Doug Fehse, owner of Avanna’s, a Floresville home remodeling and furniture sales business. “I look forward to the Jailhouse Museum reopening its doors to the public.”

Fehse recently rebuilt the large front door to the building in his shop before he and his employees installed it. Because of the condition of the wood, the wood for the door and doorframe is new — as the wood is for the windows, window frames, and other wooden trim replaced earlier.

The woodwork has been painted white, as it appeared before restoration began, although Fehse says the wordwork might have been stained a natural color when the jailhouse was originally built in the 1880s.

Escaping white paint is the stairway leading to the second floor of the family living area; the stairs, railing, and posts have been newly refinished and stained.
Part of the floor on the upstairs landing had to be replaced with new wood. The wooden floors in the bedrooms have been painted brown, but the floors downstairs have been sanded and stained.

The last tasks of the current work phase involve replacing the two side doors on the front of the building.

“We’re replacing them with eight-foot tall doors with glass windows and a smaller transom,” Fehse said.

Wilson County Historical Society Treasurer Clarence Ehlers told the Wilson County News that after restoration of the family living area is completed, restoration of the jailhouse will focus on the kitchen and dining room in the jail area.

“We do things when we have the money,” he said.

Help restore the Jailhouse Museum

Wilson County’s old jailhouse served the county from 1887- 1974, before it became the Jailhouse Museum in 1989. The building — designed by noted architect James Riely Gordon —is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark and a State Antiquities Landmark.

After heavy rains and other damage to the building, restoration on the museum began in 2016. During most of this time, it has been closed to the public.

The Wilson County Historical Society, which has committed itself to preserving and rehabilitating the museum, encourages anyone who would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to support the effort to mail a check to: WCHS Jailhouse Museum, P.O. Box 101, Floresville TX 78114.

gripps@wcn-online.com

Photo: Doug Fehse, who has been working on the restoration of Wilson County’s old jailhouse in downtown Floresville, climbs the recently refinished and stained stairway to the second floor, where a county sheriff and his family once lived. GREGORY RIPPS/Wilson County News
 

1887-1974
located in downtown Floresville on the north side of the Courthouse square

~ Currently closed for renovations ~
 
ABOUT US

The Wilson County Jailhouse Museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing our state and county history with present and future generations. As curators, we recognize that the greatest artifact of the museum is the building itself.

Designed in 1887 by noted architect James Riely Gordon and built by contractor B.R. Reid, the Jailhouse served as the sheriff's residence and jail until 1974.

The structure was constructed using first-class white brick for a cost of $14,000. Commissioners Court additionally authorized the contractor to use materials and plans from the Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis, Missouri for the cellblocks.

The ground floor and the front portion of the second floor were built to serve as the residence for the sheriff and his family. The back portion of the building housed two levels of cell blocks and a deputy office on the ground floor.

A state of the art trap door was installed for hangings. However, it did not function properly and was only used once.

In 1989, Commissioners Court voted to establish the building as the Wilson County Jailhouse Museum to preserve and share historic artifacts, writings, photographs, documents or other matters pertaining to the history of Wilson County.

In 2016, following heavy rains and damage to the building, we began extensive rehabilitation of the Jailhouse Museum. As members of the Wilson County Historical Society, we are committed to protecting and restoring our county's resources. We invite you to join us as we preserve and rehabilitate the Jailhouse and reopen the museum to the public.
 
Please make your tax-deductible checks to:
WCHS Jailhouse Museum
P.O. Box 101, Floresville, Texas 78114
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Some History...

The Wilson County Jailhouse Museum was the second jail constructed in Wilson County. The first jail was built at a cost of $5,500 by Northcraft and Donaldson who also built the Atascosa and Hays County jails. It was sited on Lot 2, Block 11 in the City of Floresville. The contract for the jail called for it to be built of stone if some could be found within 5 miles of the site. If stone would be unavailable, it was to be constructed of brick. The jail was built of red stone but its source is unknown. It is supposed that it came from the east side of the river or perhaps it was brought across the river on the ferry operated by N. de la Zerda in Lodi.

As the county grew, this jail proved inadequate and on Feb. 17, 1887, County Judge W.L. Worsham contracted with James Riley Gordon, a San Antonio architect, to develop a set of plans for a new county jail.

James Riley Gordon (1864-1937), a native of Winchester, Virginia, had no formal education in architecture. At age 18, he began his career as an apprentice with W.C. Dodson, a prominent architect of Central Texas designs. In the early 1880s, he received a very enthusiastic patronage overshadowing other competition, and by 1887, he was awarded a majority of important local and area jobs.

This new jail was designed to face C Street near the center of the courthouse square. A construction contract was awarded to B.R. Reid to build the structure of “first-class” white brick for a cost of $14,000. On July 7, 1887, the commissioners’ court additionally authorized the contractor, B.R. Reid, to use the materials and plans submitted by Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis, Missouri for the cellblocks. As was the custom at that time, the architect designed the masonry shell of the building, placing within it a patented system of free-standing iron and steel cellblocks.

The Wilson County Historical Society hosts has a museum in the jail house which is currently closed for renovations. The monthly Floresville Opry is held to benefit the Wilson County Historical Society in its efforts to complete the work on the museum.

Floresville Opry

Some More History...

This building served as a jail and sheriff’s residence until 1974 when a new Criminal Justice Facility was constructed on the courthouse grounds. Although modern plumbing, heating, and lighting facilities have been added during the years, the original floor plan has not been changed and the original jail cells still remain intact.

In 1936 the Works Project Administration modified the exterior. The two gables on the east and west elevations were removed and the gable roof was changed to a hip roof. The brick crenellation, which extended along the perimeter of the roof was removed, as were the six brick chimneys. The double wooden gallery which extended across the front of the building, was also demolished at this time.
This two-story building was designed with a ground floor and the front portion of the second floor to serve as the residence for the sheriff and his family. The back portion of the second floor was designed to receive the prefabricated cellblocks.

The jail itself contains two levels of cells located on the second floor. Two entrances lead to this prison area, one from the inside through a steel door from the first floor dining room, and a second steel door entrance (located on the back of the building opening) into a hallway that contains the metal stairs leading up to the cells. At the top stair level a trap door was installed for hangings. However, it did not function properly and was used only once for a hanging.

A block of three cells on the west side is located in the center of each level with the cells opening into a common area where the privy was located. Each cell had space for four people to sleep. On the east side is a block of two cells on each level where each cell had space for two people to sleep. The outside building windows were fitted with steel bars for increased security. The cells located at the top level of the east stairway were used for solitary confinement. When full, the jail held thirty-two prisoners.

The living quarters for the sheriff and his family consisted of two rooms upstairs in the front of the building plus four rooms on the first floor that included the kitchen and dining rooms.
View by appointment, call LaJuana Newnam-Leus