SNYDER, Texas (AP) — Have you ever noticed the old Scurry County Jail?
Me neither, I’d probably driven by it 20 times before I actually saw it.
It’s located along the banks of Deep Creek at 2705 College Ave. When driving down College, either to the square or toward the hospital, it never registered in my mind.
Maybe it’s because it’s right next to the bridge, or perhaps it’s because the traffic gets a little dicey there (for Snyder, anyway).
For some reason, one day I had the sense of mind to look up and think, “Hey, that sign says this was the old jail. What’s up with that?”
More often than not, that last phrase is where most of these columns start.
So what’s up with that jail? Elyndabeth Toland, president of Historic Scurry County Inc., which owns the building, gave the Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/1vOnIzz) a tour of the old hoosegow.
“This is the old Scurry County Jail, built in 1912,” she said. “It was used until 1979 and then they built a new jail, and now they have an even newer one than that.”
The three-story building is covered in stucco. Like most of the old jails in the Big Country, the sheriff lived in special quarters on the ground floor with his family. Prisoners lived on the two levels above.
Who owned it after 1979? It wasn’t the county.
“In 2009 we found out through our historical book that we owned the jail,” Toland said. “No one seemed to have paid any attention to that, but the Commissioners Court had sold it for a very nominal fee to Historic Scurry County Inc.”
In the early 1990s, the court asked the organization if they would lease the jail. A battered women’s service needed a secure place for their residents to stay.
But the jail? Really?
“It was leased, but that was a terrible place to bring abused women and children,” Toland admitted. “Secure, yes, but terrible.”
Things changed, eventually. Toland has only been president since 2008 and by 2011 the women’s service had found a more suitable site and Historic Scurry County got the jail back.
Clean up started and a restoration was begun. Toland said their model is the Old Jail Art Center in Albany. Also the site of a historic jail, that building was renovated and converted into an art museum with exhibits on the top floor.
“If you’ve been to Albany, you know what it looks like and that’s what we’d love for (our jail) to look like,” she said.
But raising the money - and the interest - to get the renovation started has been problematic. The first effort centered around holding a street dance complete with live music and food vendors on the road which runs between the creek and the building along the shore.
“And it poured down rain and turned freezing cold,” she lamented.
Then once during White Buffalo Days, the annual early-October festival on the courthouse square, members of Historic Scurry County held tours wearing jail costumes. But even though some folks were interested, it seemed their wallets weren’t.
“The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) knew that we were working and trying so hard, they gave us a donation of $12,000 to kick it off. Ever since, we have been trying to raise at least $12,000 more,” Toland said.
The Chamber of Commerce kicked in $8,000 for a new roof after it was discovered the old one was leaking. Not surprising, apparently there were trees growing up there.
“Really, all we’re trying to do to the old jail part is seal the walls and paint them, and then paint all the metal work in there,” Toland said.
After that they will address the living quarters. It needs a new floor, plumbing and other work. Toland envisions some of the walls inside being removed to create a public meeting space.
Entering the jail, Toland pointed to a trapdoor overhead.
“It had a place to hang someone, though no one was ever hanged, so it’s been sealed off,” she said.
Coming up the stairs, you see the startling reminder of their last fundraiser, a striped prisoner’s costume stuffed with rags and suspended by rope over the trap door.
But it’s the cell bars that are the most fascinating. The paint peeling away from them creates a wonderful visual texture that the photographer in me wants to shoot all day long.
On the other hand, the kid who stripped a neighbor’s house for workshop tuition after high school saw a whole day’s work, too, and not nearly as fun.
“Sandblasting the old paint off, there’s nothing to that with the condition that it’s in,” Toland said. Repainting it, she went on, would take a little longer since the cells are seated in the middle of the room.
Here and there, etched in the doors or the walls, are the sobering reminders of who passed through here. On a door in a section marked “Juvenile”, someone scratched into a door, “Peggy, murder, 20 years.” Yikes!
But aside from the paint, it generally all appears solid enough. Toland admits she’s looking for help in trying to realize their dream for the jail.
“I need some help as to how to proceed with this,” she said. “Grants are probably a possibility. However, I have no one to write grants. All of the people who are in our association are in their late 70s, 80s and 90s.”
She worries that historic preservation could fade away as members get too old or pass on. Toland asks if people aren’t stepping up now, what will happen when she and the others are gone?
“Whether we can make it happen before I die or not, I don’t know,” she joked, laughing. “But if I could get it started, at least there’s a chance.”
Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com
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