View Mobile Site

Most popular today

  • Bookmark and Share

Play some games on the Courier
Search for valuable coupons and print them out

Courier Friends to Follow

Condemned; not forgotten

Liberty lore

POSTED: June 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.
/

An old postcard shows what the jail used to look like.

View Larger
"A rotten filthy rathole."
Then-Gov. Lester Maddox called me that when I was 80 as he condemned me. When I was new I was described as having all the modern improvements of a first class prison.  
I sit at 302 S. Main St. and am referred to as "The Old Jail." I was not the first one in the county, but did serve the longest. Completed in October 1892 by contractor Mr. Parkhill, I am a two-story brick building, 64 feet wide by 75 feet long. Two fireplaces warmed my insides for 49 years and then heaters were installed in 1941.
Early invoices include several for cleaning the sewer pipe, $8.50 paid to Mr. B. Shaw for firewood, $3.33 to Martin Brothers for 50 rolls of toilet paper, $1.90 to Amanda Taylor for washing 19 jail blankets, $4.50 to Dr. T.S. Layton for medical services to prisoners, $1.25 to Henry I. Rahn for white-washing the jail and $22.50 for clothing for discharged convicts.
In 1964, the County Commissioners suggested that I was too old and needed too many repairs and that I be replaced by a new jail.  Finally in 1968, a bond election authorized building a new one.  I was worried about my outcome.
On March 3, 1970, I was to be auctioned to the highest bidder by the county.  The Liberty County Historical Society had been formed to save old historical buildings. So, on this day, the LCHS and a company from Savannah came to bid. The Savannah company did not want me, just my land. The bids went back and forth, higher and higher. Finally, LCHS made the final bid of $4,500. This was a tremendous amount more than they had anticipated. But, thanks to them, I was saved from destruction.
After numerous fundraisers the LCHS was able to put a new roof on me and removed the exterior white paint that had been applied by a prisoner. I was restored to my original brick by the Happy Bear Co. at a cost of $561.
After a number of year, LCHS sold to the city for $1. I am in its hands now.
I've got lots of memories. Here are a couple of the more memorable in my later years as part of the penal system:
In 1959, Robert V. "Bobby" Sikes was elected sheriff. One prisoner during his term was Ernest Newmiller, a military trained demolition expert whose wife operated a photography studio on Fort Stewart. One night they had a quarrel and Mrs. Newmiller called the sheriff and advised him that her husband was on the way to town to rob a bank. The sheriff, deputies and several policemen tailed him into Hinesville from Walthourville and stopped him at the entrance to Fort Stewart.  A search of his clothing produced several sticks of dynamite and a hand grenade. The laundromat beside a bank revealed enough dynamite to blast the laundromat as well as the bank.  Then they learned he was wanted in New York for murder. He had connected a hand grenade to a garage door and when the woman lifted her door she was killed by the explosion.
Then there was Foster Sellers, a professional bank robber, who stayed a short time with us.  He had a record for previous jailbreaks, but gave Sheriff Sikes his word he would behave. After his trial, conviction and transfer to a prison in Jesup, the Jesup warden called Sikes, saying Sellers wanted to talk to him. Meeting with Sellers in his old cell here, he showed Sikes where he had sawed the security bars through and left the jail at night. He walked to a local car dealership, selected a used car, located the keys and drove to Savannah for a night on the town. He was always back in his cell in the morning.
A hot situation arose in February of 1966 when a prisoner attempted suicide in his second floor cell. After arranging his bed linens around him he proceeded to ignite both the sheets and himself. Other prisoners were removed but police hesitated to go on the second floor because of the d smoke and flames.  Sheriff Bobby Sikes did not hesitate to hurry up the stairs and drag the unconscious, 200-pound prisoner to safety.  As a result of his bravery, he received and award from WSB radio in Atlanta for "his heroic rescue of the trapped prisoner."
I have seen a lot in my 112 years and am the oldest surviving brick structure in town.
Much of the above was written in 2004 and since then the city has received some grants to restore the old jail.  And Thursday, the Downtown Development Authority had a reception to help bid farewell to the chains of neglect and celebrate the revitalization of one of Liberty County's oldest treasures.  The DDA office will be located in the building as the restoration continues and later will house a city museum. 
 

What others say about this article

  • Bookmark and Share

Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.

 

Featured Video


Please wait ...