lawyer friend from Tyler
did something a few years ago I've always wanted to do. He turned
his local jail into a place to work.
Randy Gilbert took a lot of ribbing about wanting to become a honest-to-goodness
jailhouse lawyer, but he stuck to his guns and restored the 1880ís
Smith County jail
as an office for his practice.
There are a lot of jails
like the old Tyler
calaboose all over East Texas
and, thankfully, jailhouse restorations are happening with increasing
frequency these days in East
People just naturally have an affinity for their jails,
so in places like Hemphill,
Jasper and Lufkin,
they've raised money through bake sales and county fairs to bring
their own jails
back to life as museums and historical archives.
There will probably be more restorations down the road, too, since
the state has gotten tougher on jail
favorite jail in East Texas
is at Coldspring.
Built in 1871, it now houses the San
Jacinto County musuem, but when I first found the jail in the
l960s, it had changed little since it was built. It was heated with
wood stoves and had its original iron cells. It also had a trapdoor
for hangings, but was sealed after only one hanging.
museum stands in Fairfield.
Now more than 130 years old, it owes part of its fame to the fact
Wesley Hardin, Texas' best known
gunfighter, once spent the night here while being transported from
County had been trying for years to turn its old jail into a museum
and finally made it on the jail's 100th anniversary in 1991.
It was from the old jail that one of East
Texas' most ingenious jailbreaks occurred. Four prisoners, housed
on the second floor, were said to have used a ragged razor blade to
cut through an iron plate covering a level mechanism controlling their
|Not far from
Carthage, in the
Shelby County seat
of Center, townspeople turned
their 1885 jail into a tourist center and chamber of commerce building.
In Lufkin, we relinquished
the Angelina County
jail on the top floor of a new
courthouse in the 1950s to allow local historians to house the
county's archives. An earlier jail is used by the county as an annex.
|The old Sabine
County jail in Hemphill,
also a museum, has one of the few hanging towers left on an East
Texas jail. When it was built in 1903, Texas executions were carried
out at the county seats rather than at the prison in Huntsville,
so the builder made provisions for Sabine County's hangings to occur
in grand style.
jail was built in the 1930s as a depression-era Works Project Administration
project. It served Jasper
County 50 years until a new, modern jail was built. The old jail
now houses the Jasper
County archives, a repository for county historical and genealogical
The pioneer jails
of East Texas, which look
like theyíve stepped out of an old western film, represent a colorful
part of Texas history,
and itís nice to see a growing movement to preserve these old buildings.
Bob Bowman's East Texas April
26, 2009 Column.
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history
and vintage/historic photos, please contact