Turn left on Crockett street, then turn left on San Antonio Street.

117 West San Antonio – Old Gillespie County Jail

In 1852, the Gillespie County Commissioners authorized construction of the first jail. It was to be 18 by 18 feet wide, with an 8 foot high, two foot thick wall. It was built near where City Hall stands today, on the corner of North Orange and Main Street. The county’s first courthouse was across the street where the old Post Office stands today. But this first jail was not well built, and after a couple of escapes, the second jail was authorized in 1859, and built by Ludwig Schmidt behind the Court House, about where Nimitz Parkway runs. The third jail was built in 1874 on the South Side of the Courthouse. At daybreak January 7, 1885, fire broke out in the jail and a prisoner named William Allison, indicted for the 1884 murder of John Braeutigam, lost his life. According to once source, Allison set the fire himself, hoping to burn his way out of jail, but the fire got out of control.

By this time, the second courthouse, the McDermott building, had been constructed, and the Commissioners authorized a fourth jail to be built by C. F. Priess and Bro. for almost $10,000 on the townlot originally granted to Justus Herber. The contract called for the jail to be 25 feet wide, 35 feet deep, and 20-22 feet high with two stories. The contract also called for “waterclosets, privy, sinks, wash sinks, water tank,” etc., and bids were advertised in the San Antonio Express, Austin Statesman and Friederichsburger Wochenblatt.

The jail was finished in December 1885. Downstairs is a lockup, and jailer’s quarters. The lockup later was used as a women’s cell. Iron steps lead to the upper floor. On the east wall of the second floor are two steel cells, each with a crude lavatory and commode, and at one time steel cots were riveted into the walls. Going through a solid steel door, one reached the back room, or maximum security. Two cells stand in the center of the room with a “run around” around them where prisoners could get exercise. The only heat for the upper floor was a wood heater in the corner of the back room. Prisoners in the front cells were often moved to the back cells in extremely cold weather.

John Dietz built the wall surrounding the jail, complete with glass topping the walls, a crude but effective way to keep prisoners from scaling the wall, and often seen in Mexico.

When the current courthouse with its upstairs jails were built in 1939, the jail was converted into living quarters for William Heimann, the custodian of the new building, and his wife. When they moved out, the building was used for storage. In the late 1970s, Fredericksburg Heritage Foundation funds, matched by Texas Historical Commission dollars, restored the old jail. The sheriff’s office and kitchen are authentically furnished, as are the sheriff’s living quarters. Graffiti decades old still mars the cell walls upstairs.

The building is locked, but the wrought iron gate to the jailyard is kept unlocked so that visitors may examine the building’s exterior. The building is open for tours every year for the Candlelight Tour of Homes, held the second weekend in December.

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