The History of Keokuk County, Iowa



The county jail was built in 1875.  Prior to that time the prisoners were kept at Washington and Muscatine.  When the county-seat was at Lancaster there was a jail erected at that place, but it was never noted for elegance or safety.  The present jail is one of the best in the State and Keokuk county now returns the compliment by keeping the prisoners for the county which formerly kept hers.

The first action in reference to the building of a jail was at the September term, 1874, as follows.

"On motion it is resolved that the board of supervisors submit to the voters of Keokuk county, Iowa, a proposition to build a jail in said county, to be voted on at the October elections 1874."

The election was held according to order, with the following result: for jail, 1,631; against jail, 314.

In the following January the board resolved that they collectively be appointed a committee to visit Chicago and intermediate towns for the purpose of examining city prisons, county jails, etc., with a view to the erection of a jail in Keokuk county.  It was also ordered that three warrants of thirty-five dollars each be issued by the auditor to defray the expenses of the trip.  This action of the board was the occasion of some very severe criticism on the part of certain tax-payers of the county.  Among other manifestations of dissatisfaction was a poster, printed at South English, which was extensively distributed throughout the county, of which the following is a copy:

"Indignation meeting! Tax-payers of Keokuk county, you are hereby requested to meet at South English on Saturday, July 17, 1875, at 2 o'clock P. M. to consider what action shall be taken in regard to the wholesale plunder of the treasury by the board of supervisors.

"Signed,                                                               MANY CITIZENS."

The board, however, went on this tour of inspection and probably did the best thing for the county which could have been done.  For on this trip they learned something relative to prisons and jail building, and whether it may be directly attributed to what they learned on this trip or not, one thing is certain, viz: The jail was erected, and when finished, proved to be the best building of the kind in this part of the State.  On their trip to Chicago, the board of supervisors arranged for the cells and cell doors which formerly were used in the city prison of Chicago. They also contracted with W. L. Carrol, of Chicago, to draw plans and specifications for the jail building.

At the April session the board ordered that bonds should be issued, negotiated and sold, to the amount of ten thousand dollars for the erection of the jail.

This order for the issue of bonds called forth another outburst of indignation in the north part of the county, and at a public meeting held at South English the following resolutions were adopted:

"WHEREAS, We, the tax payers of Keokuk county, have reason to believe that our county supervisors have been recreant to their trust in so much that they have voted to themselves for services since the 1st of January, 1875, an amount equal to $65 a month each for the entire six months; that they have treated with disrespect a petition of tax-payers; that they have clearly shown their incompetency to fill the important positions they occupy, in issuing the county jail bonds without legal authority, and by being unable, or unwilling, to transact the business of the county within the time specified by law, to-wit: thirty days; (see See. 3791, Code 1873); therefore, be it

"Resolved. 1st—That a committee be appointed to investigate the propriety of enjoining the board from making further appropriations for services, and the auditor and treasurer from drawing and paying the same.

"2d.—That the issuing by the board of supervisors of the county bonds, known as the jail bonds, without the proposition for a tax having been adopted by the people, and the sale of said bonds absolutely void in law, under the representation that they were valid, meets our unqualified censure.

"3d.—That the present board be requested to resign, and allow the people to fill their places by members who can transact the business of the county within the time specified by law."

The supervisors, however, did not resign, but went on with the plans for the erection of the building.

The jail was completed in the latter part of the year 1875, and, as before remarked, is one of the most substantial buildings of the kind in the State.  The following description of the building, published in the "News," of the issue January 5, 1876, will give a good idea of the building:

"For a proper understanding of the buildings described, it is necessary to state that although described as two buildings, they are connected and separated only by a partition wall.

"Ground plan of dwelling, 38 feet 8 inches by 28 feet 8 inches, divided into four rooms, viz: pantry, vegetable, furnace and fuel rooms. These divisions are made by brick walls. The outer walls, forming the foundation of the structure, are of stone, four feet thick at the base, and by offsets reduced to one foot eight inches at a height of eight feet, receiving a water-table as a base for the brick work.

"The main walls are of brick, fifteen inches thick, with air chambers of two inches, stone sills and caps for the openings. First story, nine feet eight inches, second story, nine feet two inches, in height, divided as follows: First floor, hall, parlor, dining-room, office, kitchen and pantry; all of which are provided with the necessary cupboards, drawers, shelving, chests and outfit pertaining to first-class rooms.  The second story is divided into four rooms, two of which are provided with wardrobes, neatly fitted and furnished with shelving, hooks, etc.  In the attic are two nice, large, well-ventilated chamber rooms.

"The building is neatly plastered, hard finished and painted throughout with three coats of paint, and blinds to all the windows. The roofing is of black slate, with water gutters and spouting leading to the cistern, to be described hereafter.

"The ground plan of the jail building proper is thirty-one feet two inches by twenty-one feet four inches; footings, five feet thick, of heavy limestone, laid in cement. The foundation walls are ten feet in height, extending six feet into the ground and four feet above, being three feet thick where they receive the water-table and floor. The main or outside walls are of sandstone, three of which are twenty-two inches, and the other twenty-six inches, thick, each stone reaching through the wall, laid in cement, weighing from one to four thousand pounds each, and doweled with a two-inch round cast-iron ball to prevent them being slipped out.  The style of the work is rock face, cut beads and drave margins.

"These walls are eighteen feet high, mounted with neat cornice and cap-pings, with four windows two by six feet. Each window is guarded with two sets of mixed steel bars, one and one-half inches in diameter, set six inches into the rock, with five stays crosswise with the bars passing through them, and with ordinary sash and ground glass.

"Inside of the walls described, commencing at the same depth, are three other walls, the main wall making the fourth, surrounding a space ten by seventeen feet which forms the privy vaults.  On these walls sit the cells, which are nine in number, and located so as to leave a corridor on three sides seven feet wide, which is flagged with stone eight inches thick, and long enough to reach and be built into the main walls on one side, and under and form a part of the foundation for the cells on the other.  Under the corridor, and surrounding the foundation wall of the vault, is a cistern of four hundred to five hundred barrels capacity, for general use of the building:  The cells are five by seven feet, floor surface, and seven feet high, formed from six stones eight inches thick, and of proper size for one each to form bottom, top, sides and end, and weighing from one to three-tons.  Each cell is provided with two iron cots, solidly fastened to the wall, and a sail-stool bolted to the floor.  Four of these nine cells are located so as to form a square.  On top of these cells are situated four other cells, which are reached by an iron stairway which lands on an iron platform in front of the doors.  On top of the eight cells under the roof is the ninth cell, or female department, thirteen by eighteen feet, formed by rubble walls planked inside with two-inch plank, and lined with iron.

"The cells are located on one side of the building, so as to connect with one of the outside walls, and between the cell stone and the wall is two inches of solid iron to prevent cutting through the wall.  The cell rock floor, and sitting of the entire jail is of limestone from the Joliet quarries.  The window-frames and sash are all the wood there is inside the jail.  Each cell is provided with two iron doors, one grated, and the other a solid slab covering the grates, each of which has a strong separate fastening.

"The entrance to the jail is from the sheriff's office in the dwelling through five iron doors, all of which have separate fastenings.  Inside the jail, surrounding the entrance, is a cage of iron lattice-work, into which the sheriff will pass, locking two doors behind him, and passing the key to an attendant in the office before opening the door of the cage admitting him to the prisoners.

"The prison is ventilated by an air duct leading from the vault under the corridor floor into a ventilating flue built between the two main chimneys, and arranged so that if there is fire either in the furnace or cook-stove it will rarefy the air in the ventilating fines, causing draft and a flow of air down through the sail-pipes into the air duct and out the top of the chimney. From experiments that have been made it is believed that the jail will be free from the offensive and unhealthy smell that is present in most: places where prisoners are confined.  Both jail and dwelling are warmed throughout from a furnace located in the basement of the dwelling.  It required about five hundred perch of rock to construct the building."

Hon. B. A. Haycock, of Richland, and J. H. Terrel were the contractors.  The contract was originally let for $9,600.  This, together with the cost of the real estate, supervision and architect's fee, amounted to the sum of $14,222.31.

The board of supervisors at the time consisted of Messrs. Merryfield, Bower and Morgan.

Transcribed by Steven McBride. Thank you, Steve!


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