Editor’s note: Local historian Margie Love wrote this column in 2004 on the "Old Jail." It includes lengthy references to former Liberty County Sheriff R.V. "Bobby" Sikes, who died Monday at 88. Given that tie between the former sheriff and the jail, we decided it would be worth running a portion of the column again.
"A rotten filthy rathole" was what I was called when I was 80 years old by our Governor Lester Maddox, who also condemned me. When I was new, I was described as having all the modern improvements of a first class prison.
I sit at 302 South Main Street in Hinesville, Georgia, and do nothing but think of the days gone by and hope someday I will be occupied again and feel important in this community. I am referred to as "The Old Jail." I was not the first one in the county but I did serve the longest time being completed by the contractor, Mr. Parkhill, in October of 1892.
I am a two-story brick building, 64 feet wide by 75 feet in length, covered with composition shingles. Originally, my roof was tin. I am surrounded by a one foot thick, three feet high brick wall that was topped with metal security bars five feet tall. Two fireplaces warmed my insides for forty-nine years and then heaters were installed in 1941.
Among some of the invoices pertaining to my upkeep were several for cleaning the sewer pipe, $8.50 paid to Mr. B. Shaw for wood for the fireplace, $3.33 paid to the Martin Brothers for 50 rolls of toilet tissue, $1.90 to Amanda Taylor for washing 19 blankets, $4.50 to Dr. L. 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 1916, Sheriff J. H. Baxter complained to the count officials of my condition and they secured Ben g. Way to make the repairs for the cost of five dollars. 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 was held and passed to build a new one.
On March 3, 1970, I was to be auctioned to the highest bidder by the Liberty County Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenues. The Liberty County Historical Society had been formed to save old historical buildings such as myself. So, on this day the LCHS and a company from Savannah came to bid on me. The Savannah company did not want me but wanted the land where I sat. They were going to destroy me with a big bulldozer.
The bids went back and forth and higher and higher. I saw the LCHS members go into a huddle from time to time as if they were playing football. Finally, they made the bid for $4,500 which was much more than they had anticipated but, thanks to them, I was saved from destruction. I now want to share some of the unique moments or prisoners that are in my memory.
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 Ft. Stewart. One night they had a quarrel and Mrs. Newmiller called Sheriff Sikes and advised him that her husband was on his way to town to rob a bank. The sheriff, deputies and several local policemen took heed of the warning. They tailed him coming into Hinesville from Walthourville and stopped him at the entrance to Ft. 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. As he had a record for previous jail breaks, he gave Sheriff Sikes his "word" that he would behave while here. After his trial, conviction and transfer to a prison in Jesup, the Jesup warden called Sikes. Sellers requested a conference with Sikes. Meeting with Sheriff Sikes 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. This he did several times. He was back in his cell in the morning.
A hot situation arose in February on 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. The other prisoners were removed but the police hesitated to go on the second floor because of the dense smoke and flames. Sheriff Bobby Sikes did not hesitate to hurry up the stairs and drag the 200 pounds unconscious prisoner to safety.
As a result of his bravery, he received the ‘750 Award’ from WSB Radio in Atlanta for "his heroic rescue of the trapped prisoner."
Sheriff Bobby Sikes served Liberty County faithfully for over 30 years.