BEDFORD – Lawrence County Sheriff Mike Branham addressed the commissioners Tuesday morning requesting permission to hire RQAW Corporation to complete a feasibility study to see if the county should build a new jail or add on to the current building. The commissioners approved his request.
“With the current overcrowding issues and the age of the building, which is more than 30 years, we are facing numerous maintenance issues and they are developing more and more,” said Sheriff Branham. “My term is almost up and I don’t want to leave this to the next sheriff to deal with. I feel it is my duty to look at a feasibility study to build a new jail or build on. We need a plan.”
The study will take 13 weeks to complete and cost $7,000.
Sheriff Branham added that the study is required by state law.
The history of the Lawrence County Jail:
The first jail in Lawrence county was constructed in May 1818, and the building was both a jail and jailer’s house. It was located in Old Palestine and was built under the bid of Thomas Beagley. It was about fifteen by seventeen feet in size and two stories high, of heavy logs one foot square, eight feet between floors, lined with heavy planks spiked on perpendicularly.
The second jail was proposed ten years later, in 1828. In May of that year, proposals were secured to build the jail in Bedford. In July the contract was let to Samuel D. Bishop for $600. This house was of logs and was paid for in installments of $200. The jail was finished in late 1829. It was used for many years.
The third jail was known as the “1858 Jail.” In December 1857, the work began on the new jail and the jailer’s residence. Specifications called for a brick jailer’s house and a stone jail to be built together. During that winter the contract was awarded to John X. Miller for $9,000. Construction began in the Spring. It became necessary to issue county bonds in the amount of $4.300. The building was completed in September 1859. This served the needs of the county until 1904 when jail bonds were floated to the amount of $33,000, with which the present massive stone jail and sheriff’s house were built. It is but a few blocks to the southwest of the public square. The building was finished in August 1904, and the new jail’s history of incarceration began with some unexpected escapes.
Later that summer, “Harry Terrell Jr. was placed behind bars to serve a jail sentence of 81 days on a charge of stealing watermelons. He seemed to dislike the accommodations, for he was missing at breakfast today. He had crawled through the stovepipe hole in the roof during the night and made good his escape. The hole is cut through a heavy beech plank and is 10 x 12 inches in size. Several other prisoners of small girth have slipped out through the same hole since the bull pen has been in use.”
The castle-like building we see today at 17th and J streets served as the county jail and sheriff’s home from 1904 until a modern, $5 million jail opened in 1990 on I Street.