Sheriff's Residence and Jail
Location: 208 NW 4th St., Evansville (Vanderburgh County, Indiana)
Installed: 2007 Indiana Historical Bureau; Wood and Woods, LLP; and Vanderburgh County Historical Society
ID# : 82.2007.1
Vanderburgh County formed, Evansville named county seat 1818. This castle-like structure was completed 1890 for county's fourth jail and second sheriff's residence. Stone exterior has step-gables, projecting turrets, crenellated roof lines, simulated portcullis, and central, rounded tower. Tunnel connects the jail to the 1890 courthouse.
Jail and residence were the focal point of a race riot July 1903, which lasted for days; twelve people were killed and many more injured. County functions moved out 1969. Listed in National Register of Historic Places 1970. County jails were first established 1792 under territorial laws and were included in state constitutions of 1816 and 1851.
African American, Government Institutions
Vanderburgh County formed, Evansville named county seat 1818. (1) This castle-like structure was completed 1890 for county's fourth jail and second sheriff's residence. (2) Stone exterior has step-gables, projecting turrets, crenellated roof lines, simulated portcullis, and central, rounded tower. (3) Tunnel connects the jail to the 1890 courthouse. (4)
Jail and residence were the focal point of a race riot July 1903, which lasted for days; twelve people were killed and many more injured. (5) County functions moved out 1969. (6) Listed in National Register of Historic Places 1970. (7) County jails were first established 1792 under territorial laws and were included in state constitutions of 1816 and 1851. (8)
(1) Vanderburgh County was formed January 7, 1818. Laws of Indiana, 1817-1818 (special), 22 (B051003). Evansville was named as the as the county seat March 11, 1818. George Pence and Nellie C. Armstrong, Indiana Boundaries (Indianapolis 1933), 772 (B050613).
(2) In 1890, the new courthouse and the jail and sheriff's residence were completed. Evansville Journal, December 23, 1890. (B050604)
In 1889, the county commissioners decided to build a new jail and sheriff's residence. Evansville Journal, June 6, 1889 (B050622).
A grand jury, assigned to visit various county institutions, had recommended that a new Vanderburgh County jail be built as soon as possible due to its poor condition. The contract for the jail and sheriff's residence went to architect H. Wolters. Evansville Journal, November 5, 1889, February 16, 1890 (B050715) (B050716).
The building contract was awarded to Charles Pearce & Company, Indianapolis. Evansville Journal, April 17, 1890 (B050602).
County offices were moved into the new courthouse in January 1891. Evansville Journal, January 30, 1891 (B050723).
"Old Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Residence and Jail, " a brochure dated 1980, is a self-guided tour of the residence and jail and provides detailed information regarding the building; no sources are cited (B050888). The following statements are quoted from the brochure:
"The jail section is enclosed by massive blocks of limestone 1.5 feet thick . . . Prisoners were quartered in a two-tiered cell block of chrome steel bars called a "bullpen" which was situated in the center of the room. There were 24 cages each containing a washbasin and water closet. Sleeping hammocks for four men were swung from the sides of the cells. The jail was centrally heated and a skylight provided light and ventilation."
"The sheriff's residence consists of two main floors, a roomy attic and an English-type Basement . . . the walls of the residence were built . . . of brick with rustic stone facing . . . two parlors and a reception room on the first floor and four bedrooms on the second floor. The family dining room and kitchen were located in the basement." "The tunnel connecting the jail with the courthouse was part of the original escape-proof design . . . there were only two entrances - one in the bastille-like jail and the other in the sub-basement of the courthouse."
The first county jail was built in 1818. History of Vanderburgh County Indiana, From the Earliest Times to the Present With Biographical Sketches, Reminiscences, Etc. (Brant and Fuller, 1889), Reprint, 1979, p. 58 (B050580). The first jail, built by Hugh McGary for $875.00 was completed and received February 15, 1819 and remained in use for ten years. It stood on the northeast quarter of the public square. Ibid., 54 (B050580).
The first courthouse was built in 1820. Ibid. (B050580). The courthouse was located in the southeast quarter of the public square.
In 1832, a second jail was built to replace the first on the same site. Ibid., 58 (B050580). In 1829, the county sheriff was directed to sell the jail to the highest bidder, who was to remove it from the public square within one month of purchase. During this time, prisoners were weighted with ball and chain, guarded by a deputy sheriff, and housed at the local taverns. Dr. William Trafton and Joseph and William Butler built the second jail for $350.00. In 1845, the sheriff was authorized to build a residence adjoining the second jail at his own expense, but declined. Ibid. (B050580).
If at the close of his official term, Sheriff William M. Walker and the commissioners could not reach an agreement upon a price for the purchase of the residence by the county, the sheriff would have been permitted to remove it from public property.
In 1857, the second courthouse, third jail, and first sheriff's residence were completed. Ibid., 55-6, 59 (B050580). The jail was built by James Roquet. Constructed of stone, it was two-stories tall. A plain, brick sheriff's residence was built directly in front of this jail.
(3) Old Jailhouse, Evansville, Indiana, University of Southern Indiana Web site http://www.usi.edu/artdept/artindiana/Architecture/Downtown/jail/jail/html (accessed August 15, 2005).
(4) Old Jailhouse, Evansville, Indiana, University of Southern Indiana Web site http://www.usi.edu/artdept/artindiana/Architecture/Downtown/jail/jail/html (accessed August 15, 2005). "Old Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Residence and Jail, " brochure dated 1980. (B050888)
(5) The race riot began on July 4, 1903. Evansville Journal, July 6, 1903 (B050734); Darrel E. Bigham, We Ask Only A Fair Trial (Bloomington 1987), 103-7 (B050578); Brian S. Butler, Undergrowth of Folly: Public Order, Race Anxiety, and the 1903 Evansville, Indiana Riot, Ph.D Dissertation, University of Nebraska, August 1998 (B050575).
By July 7, 1903, 6 people had been killed and 30 injured. Evansville Courier, July 7, 1903 (B051005).
Immediately following the riot there was extensive newspaper coverage of the riot, and coverage continued for months after. Historian Darrel Bigham wrote about the riot (pp. 105-7): "The black community lived in a state of terror from July 4 through July 10. No one was safe outdoors, and scores of homes and shops were riddled with bullets . . . Blacks reportedly could be found walking on the railroad tracks leading in every direction from the city."
"The violence had a profound influence on black Evansville. Aside from property damage and threats to personal safety of hundreds of blacks, it blunted the development of the business and professional community. The proposed newspaper did not get off the ground. Within a year three prominent professionals had left town. It is impossible to determine how many others decided not to settle in Evansville because of its reputation. It is unclear how many of those ordinary people who fled for their lives failed to return."
(6) Evansville Courier, May 8, 1969 (B050724).
(7) Historic Indiana: Indiana Properties Listed in the National Register of Historic Places 2003-2004 (Indianapolis 2002), 50 (B050797).
(8) Indiana Historical Bureau standard statement.