Museum, formerly Bellville Jail
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark
Photo courtesy Barclay
Gibson, September 2004
has a great jail, which now serves as the Austin
County Museum and many other buildings. Maybe they aren't
as grand as the jail, but they are charming and in some cases unique
(The old Dr. Pepper bottling plant with its rock façade comes to mind).
Bellville Crime and Punishment: The first 35 years of it's
existence Bellville had only two homicides and one of those was deemed
justifiable. There were also two
legal hangings and two lynchings, one of which was for the theft
of 65 sheep. It's entirely possible it wasn't the actual theft that
earned this man his hanging as much as it was his stupidity. The theft
was embarrassing to Austin Countians.Where was he planning to hide
65 sheep? Even if the plates and registration were changed?
Before our present system of booking and fingerprinting evolved, the
first step in securing a prisoner was to take him to the blacksmith
to have him "ironed". This meant a customized set of shackles
(monograms were extra). One unfortunate prisoner was in irons for
16 months before trial!
When the time
came for the jail to be built - they built one with no windows or
doors on the ground floor. Prisoners were inserted into this area
by means of an outside staircase and a hole in the floor. Very clever,
but it could get a little warm in the summer.
These tidbits of Austin County history are taken from the book "Bellville;
The Founders and Their Legacy" by Isabel Frizzell.
Out of print, but available at the library. The Library with it's
flowerbed of ornamental cabbage, is staffed by helpful librarians
who are bucking the trend to get rid of everything except John Grisham,
Danielle Steele and books on tape. In fact it's so user friendly
we make it a point to do our research there.
One of the many interesting postcards on display in the library
shows a petrified tree trunk brought into town and weighing in at
nearly two tons. Don't feel superior to the crowd gathered around
this oddity. Sure, you know all about petrified wood. But the early
settlers of Austin County knew all they needed to know about petrified
wood (it didn't burn and it dulled their axes).
Calling their old
jail "unsafe, unfit, and inadequate," the Austin County Court contracted
in 1896 with Pauly Jail Building Co. of St. Louis to erect this structure
at cost of $19,970. Romanesque Revival style, with crenelated parapets,
bartizans, and stone window arches harmonized with the 1886
courthouse, which later burned. The gallows, used only in
1901, have been removed; jailer's quarters have been enlarged; but
original exterior is preserved.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1976