Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Purchase A Suitable Lot for the Jail

Bonham Daily Favorite, November 13, 1993

On December 3, 1856 Fannin County Commissioners took the first step in establishing, for the first time in the history of the county, a Fannin County jail. On that date, Samuel J. Galbraith, Clerk of the Court, advanced the county the sum of $75.00 to purchase a "suitable lot" on which the proposed jail would be erected. Lot #7, Block 6 of the Bailey Inglish survey was purchased from Mabel Gilbert for that sum. As a matter of record, this site was the location of the first jail and has been the location of every jail since.
At the November term of court the Commissioners had ordered that bids for the construction of the building were to be received on January 3, 1857. Again notice of the bid acceptance was published in The Bonham Advertiser and The Northern Standard and this time the bid specifications were also listed.

"Notice: The County Court of Fannin County has adopted the following plans for a jail to be built in the Town of Bonham. Sealed bids may be left with the County Clerk on the 3rd day of January 1857 at which times the bids will be unsealed in open court and the lowest bids received. The contractor will be required to give bond with good security for the faithful performance of the work." Specifications follow:

The house is to be 18 feet square and to be built of square posts of oak timber upon two bois d' rc sills 12" square the inside sill to be let into the ground even with the surface on which is to be laid a floor of square post oak timber 6 X 10 inches laid on edge and a plank floor of 1 1/2 inch oak plank well jointed and laid across and to be nailed down in squares of 3 inches with 5 ten penny nails to each square.

The first and inside wall is to be of square post oak timber 6 inches thick and to be 10 feet high and on that another floor is to be laid as to the first in every particular. And then the said wall is to be continued 7 feet above said floor on which the third floor is to be laid similar to the ones described above.

The rafters are to be pine or cedar, sufficient size, closely sheeted with sound substantial plank. The roof is to be of oak shingles 5/8 inches thick, well jointed, clear of sap, and well nailed on.

The second wall is to be of post oak timber square, 6 inches thick and on the outside and to extend from there to the top of the second floor.

The third and outside wall is also to be of square post oak timber, 6 inches thick to be dovetailed together and every log well spiked down with 20 penny nails as the wall is raised. The inside and outside walls are to be of equal height and notched down as closely together as can be made with the squared timbers.

There are to be two windows in the lower room 18 inches square on the opposite sides of the house with three sets of grates in each one in each wall to be made of bar iron 1x2 inches and to be put in as the wall is raised.

There is to be a trapdoor in the center of the second floor which is to be three feet square made of 2 inch oak plank doubled crosswise and lined on the underside with sheet iron well nailed on with wrought nails, to be clinched on the opposite side and to be hung on strong wrought hinges. The doorway is to be substantial, cased with strong firm timbers.

The entrance door is to be on the second floor and is to have two shutters one on the inside, the other on the outside wall. To be double 1/2 inch oak plank crossed and nailed together with wrought nails clinched on the opposite side alternatively, to have 5 nails to every two inches square, these doors are to be substantially cased and hung on strong wrought hinges. They are to have suitable locks set into them, which also the trap door must have.

There are to be stairsteps rising 8 inches with a 10 inch tread from the ground to a strong platform 4x6 feet at the entrance door.

All the foregoing work is to be finished off with workmanlike style and good sound durable material. Done by order of the Fannin County Court December 10, 1856."

Description of the foregoing structure doesn't lend itself to an image of a rehabilitative or humane facility. From specifications it appears that no provision for separate cells was made. In fact it is apparent that the prisoners were to be kept in something of a holding room on the first floor with no windows and the only exit through the trap door of the second floor. Perhaps one incarceration was enough for anyone with a criminal bent.

At the January, 1857 term of court meeting on January 3, the bids for the jail were opened. The court minutes do not indicate how many bids were received nor the range of construction figures. The Commissioners awarded the contract to Calvin J. Fuller who had submitted a bid of $1494.00. Two days later Fuller filed his bond with the court with C.C. Alexander and R.A. Burney as securities. At that time the Court ordered an advance of $400 to Fuller.

In February the Court advanced Fuller an additional $600 with the notation that construction was well under way. In that same session of the court we find an indication of the continuing method by which prisoners were serving their sentences. To the court B.F. Christian submitted an account in the amount of $8.25 for "board of prisoners and their guards." Accounts for payment to prisoner guards were attached with the following men being compensated in amounts ranging from $1.00 to $3.75: William Fuqua, James Busby, William Eubanks, A.G. Atkins, and J.A. Smith. Of interest is the fact that Christian owned and operated the Bonham House on the east side of the square. Were the prisoners housed in this facility?

On May 18, 1857 the Court Clerk entered into the minutes the following: "Upon examination of the jail in the town of Bonham as built by Calvin J. Fuller, contractor, the court finds the same finished off according to the contract and therefore it is ordered by the court that the same be received and that the Treasurer pay the said Fuller the balance now due him, to wit: $494.00. The amount of $1000 having been heretofore paid and it is further ordered that the sum of $184.15 be paid said contractor for extra work performed by him on said jail.