To the editor:
Hancock County has had five jails. The first jail was built 1829 just south of Gooding’s Corner, the current city hall. The cost of construction was $140.50. It was built of wood and burned down in 1833 by inmate John Hays, who was former Sheriff in Rush County. He was attempting to escape, and he was killed in the fire.
The second jail, also of wood, was built by Cornwall Meek in 1836 at a cost of $2,200. This structure was located on the south edge of the Courthouse Plaza.
The third jail was built on the site of the second in 1853. It was built of logs and currently resides in Riley Park as the Hancock County Historical Society Museum. Before it was moved to Riley Park, it was relocated to the site of the Greenfield Gas Company from the south edge of the Courthouse Plaza. the logs of this jail had nails or spikes driven into the wall to prevent escape.
The fourth jail is the current prosecutor’s office, and it was built in the 1870s. The style of architecture is Second French Empire, and the construction cost $45,000. This building had 11 cells and was approved for a capacity of 20.
The fifth jail, the present one, was built in 1988 under the administration of Sheriff Nick Gulling. The cost was $6.5 million. It has a capacity of 125 with 63 cells.
The sixth jail is now being built on the county farm. If you go out U.S. 40 between County Roads 400E and 500E on the north side of the road, you can see the new jail location.
The fourth jail , the prosecutor’s office, has seen a lot of action from the Keemer Lynching to the escape of the Brady Gang in the 1930s. It is a significant historical structure and needs to be preserved for the integrity of the Courthouse Square. Once a building like that is torn down, it is just gone.
Congrats to the county commissioners for doing a structural survey. Let’s hope this is the first step in its future use.
Joseph L. Skvarenina
Skvarenina is the county historian.