The Old City Jail Served for 66 Years
Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


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Corsicana’s old City Jail served for 66 years

EDITOR’S NOTE: The old City Jail in Corsicana built in 1908 is to receive a historical marker in ceremonies this Sunday. The following is the first of two articles written by Mary Love Sanders which contains portions of the materials submitted to the Texas Historical Commission. Mrs. Love is a member of the Navarro County Historical Commission.


Although a small log jail had been built in Corsicana during the term of office of the town’s third mayor, Thomas J. Haynes this “calaboose” as it was called was too small and unsanitary to accommodate the growing numbers of inmates which accompanied the growth of the town. As a consequence, it was abandoned after the construction of a new county jail in 1876.

The city of Corsicana’s first permanent brick jail was built in 1908. On March 30, 1908, according to the official minutes of the city commission meeting. H. B. Lochhead, a Corsicana architect, appeared before the commission and presented sketches, plans and specifications for the proposed new jail, the cost estimated to be $4,000. Upon action by the commission, these plans were adopted.

The presence of the city hall on the northeast corner of city block 266 probably dictated the location of the new jail and although no official mention was made at this commission meeting concerning the purchase of a building site, it seems almost certain that a preliminary verbal agreement had been reached with Mrs. Rebecca A. Croft, owner of the land adjacent to the city hall property, the logical site for the construction of the jail.

MRS. CROFT WAS the widow of Judge William Croft who had first begun practicing law in Corsicana in 1850 and had the reputation of being a tenacious as well as an extremely fair attorney and judge. The Crofts’ grandson Charles W. Croft, 1104 West 4th Avenue, Corsicana, a retired 78 year old banker, remembers that W. A. Townsend told him, in 1920, that in the early days he had seen deer grazing on what was later known as the “Croft property.”

On June 1, 1908, during a regular session of the City Commission, Commissioner of Public Improvement (also Mayor) E. A. Johnson reported that low bids on the erection of the proposed new jail had been received and were “pending the recovery of Chairman Walton of the Building Committee.”

At a subsequent called session of the Commission on June 3, 1908, the commission ratified the action taken by the city council in awarding a contract on the construction of the jail to Berry and Metcalf at $5,275.

FURTHER OFFICIAL, action of the Corsicana City Commission on June 15, 1908, in joint called session with the city council, authorized the purchase of a lot 25’ X 85’ known as the “Croft property” at 207 West 5th Avenue, immediately west of the city hall, on which to build the jail. The council approved the purchase of this lot and appropriated $750 to cover cost.

The land on which the Old City Jail now stands was to be used as a county seat for Navarro County which was formed in Robertson County.

Final acceptance of the new jail took place at a regular meeting of the City Commission on Oct. 5, 1908. The official name of the building and the year of its construction are still clearly visible on the exterior of the structure.

As designed by the architect the jail was a two story red brick building of I-beam construction facing north northeast, build on a beam foundation about two feet above ground level. The exterior walls consisted of three thicknesses of brick laid in even courses from foundation to roof, and there was a decorative patterned brick trim below the roof line.

THE ROOF WAS FLAT, sloping slightly to the rear, with wooden screens laid in concrete, covered with wooden decking and a mopped surface. Access to the jail was through wide iron doors, two in the front and one at the rear; some of the inside doors and latches were taken from the Old County Jail.

Downstairs there was a small lobby with two cells in the real. On the second level were the police chief’s office and another small lobby. Wooden frame, double sash windows, protected by heavy iron bars, furnished light and ventilation. Amenities and comforts were few and the facilities were strictly utilitarian.

When a new city hall was built in 1924 on the site of the old city hall immediately east of the jail, the chief’s office was relocated in the new structure and slight alterations were made to the 1908 jail in order to provide a larger and more efficient arrangement of cell space.

TWO NEW CELLS were installed upstairs, one for women and one for persons who were considered dangerous. Iron plating separated the rooms, and the second story cells were free-standing and iron-barred set into place as separate units.

The ceiling were of plaster, and a wooden stairway with a metal railing connected the first and second stories. Sanitary facilities were minimal. The jail remained essentially as described until the present restoration, except for minor improvements and repairs.

In 1974 the jail and the immediately adjacent city hall property were purchased by the First National Bank of Corsicana which occupies the remainder of the block, in order to preserve these buildings which have played such an important role in Corsicana’s municipal history. Upon completion of a new Government Center, police offices and jail were moved to the new center.

Restoration and stabilization of the Old City Jail have been carried out by the bank for the jail’s new occupants, First Travel Agency, under the supervision of Mary Ann Stroube, travel agency owner and Allen Eden, Jr., co-owner of the Builder’s Supply Co. of Corsicana.

THE INTEGRITY OF the original building has been maintained and repairs have taken in to consideration the appearance and character of the 1908 structure; wherever possible original materials have been reused in making necessary repairs.

For the sake of safety and convenience steps now lead up to a small entry porch. Both steps and porch are reconstructed of cement aggregate with red brick trim, conforming to the original appearance of the building. A porch railing has been constructed from the original inside stair railing.

The outer iron frond door is original while the inside wooden front door originally hung in the Senator James H. Woods home, 504 West 2nd Avenue, Corsicana, built in 1900 and marked with a Texas Historical Medallion. The wooden period door has been added merely for convenience. There is no longer a rear entrance to the building.

Outside brick and brick trim have been pointed up wherever necessary and new decking and a new mopped surface conform to the original fall of the roof. Windows on the east side of the jail have been bricked up with the original bars left intact on the inside; this non-structural alteration was made because of the close proximity of the jail to the old City Hall (about 12-inch clearance) and for the sake of more efficient heating and air conditioning.

THE INSIDE WALLS of the building have been scraped and cleaned so that brick still forms the interior wall surface. Wooden window frames have been painted and repaired with only two windows requiring replacement because of deterioration. Stationary single pane windows have been used in both instances. The heading on all windows are original.

‘Amenities and comforts (in the old jail) were few and the facilities were strictly utilitarian.’

A small bay window has been constructed in the area formerly taken up by the east iron front door and will serve as a display area as well as provide additional lighting. Original inside iron cell bars protect the glass sides of this window.

All electrical conduits have been removed from the outside of the building for the sake of safety and new conduits have been attached to the exposed inside beams which were encased in rough cedar siding, a practical disposition of necessary features.

The outside light fixture, to be placed over the front door, was in use in the old jail, and inconspicuous base plugs have been installed to furnish modern lighting suitable for business offices.

Some of the original iron cell bars and metal sheeting have been left intact or incorporated into partitions and walls during restoration, at the top of the partition enclosing the consultation room and as a floor to ceiling divider for the manager’s office.

Flat bars, where encountered, are known to be the oldest type in use. There are double louvered doors at the entrance to the consultation room and also on the coffee bar nook and closet which open onto the original jail hallway.

EMBOSSED METAL ceilings have been installed in the lounge area and in the small overhang which protects the front entrance, replacing the badly deteriorated original ceilings. These embossed ceilings were at one time a part of a contemporary structure, the old Merchants Opera House on Beaton Street in Corsicana. A historical marker now commemorates this building, occupied for many years by the Builder’s Supply Co.

Period furniture will be used wherever practical and possible, in the lounge and reception areas, in an effort to combine the demands of functionalism with evidence of history.

On the first floor, room areas have been only slightly rearranged for maximum utility. There is still a small lobby and reception area and cell space has now been designated as a consultation room, manager’s office, storage space, a coffee bar and electric hot water heater, heating and air conditioning room and a public lounge area.

A circular iron staircase with wooden steps has replaced the wooden staircase which had almost collapsed at the time the jail was sold. It leads to the second floor where rotten flooring has been cut back to the first beam.

Perforated iron grating from the original jail forms a three-quarter south wall of this room, entered through the original iron door. This second story room will be used for travel presentations, displays or other civic uses.

The Corsicana Daily Sun - Fri., Dec. 17, 1976 - submitted by Diane Richards


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