Fannin County Museum of History


One Main Street, Bonham, Texas

County Jail Slow in Being Rebuilt

Bonham Daily Favorite, November 28, 1993

Despite the difficulties experienced by the County Commissioners in agreeing on a replacement of the fire ravaged county jail, the urgent need for prompt action did nothing to stir the court into action. Once again the Sheriff was forced to transport those prisoners convicted of the more serious crimes to jails in surrounding counties. And once again those serving time for lesser offenses were placed in the custody of individuals who were reguired to clothe, feed, and guard these offenders for the term of their sentence

It was more than a year after the county jail was destroyed before some action on the part of the commissioners becomes evident. With the replacement of the first appointed jail committee, the court ordered that a lot be purchased from L.C. Wilson "upon which to build the jail or rather to extend the lot upon which the jail is to be built." This additional lot which was to be purchased was adjacent on the west to the first lot which had been purchased in 1856.

The Court records contain no evidence as to when specifications and plans for the new jail were drawn or when the contract was awarded. At the October, 1869 term of court it is noted that F.D. Piner, James K. Blair, and P.B. Maddrey were ordered to take the bond of the contractor to build the jail for the sum of $14,600. The contractor is not designated but from a later entry we find that a firm named Thompson and Williams did receive the contract.

The specifications for the structure were filed separately and not entered into the Commissioners records.  Unfortunately these documents do not exist today so that our only information about the jail comes from a list of changes in the building which were ordered by the court at the November term .

The changes seem to indicate that the new jail was styled much along the same lines as the earlier one. The structure was probably composed of only two rooms. In the changes it was ordered that "Room A" should be provided with two doors instead of one and "one of each said door is to be on each side; and also a window on each side of said room. The door in Room B is to be placed in the rear wall instead of the front wall."

The records also show that the building was to be constructed of "good Sulphur Rock as well as brick if it can be built of rock as cheap."

Attached to the change specifications were two additional paragraphs which must not have been included in the original. The court ordered that the sum of $6500.00 be allowed to the contractor to be paid by the Treasurer from county script issued by the County Clerk upon orders of the Commissioners.
The committee for superintending the construction were to require that the contractor complete construction by January 1, 1870 or forfeit $5.00 per day for each day after that date that the project was not completed.

The January, 1870 term of the Court came and went and nothing was recorded about the construction of the jail. In May the court approved payment of $124.25 to Sheriff M.W. Bledsoe for "jail expenses to date."

On June 13, the court approved payment to Sheriff J.  M. McKee of $180.00 "for board of prisoners from May 7th to this date." The same day the court ordered that James K.  Blair be appointed commissioner to "have damages repaired to the court house, jail and jail fence, occasioned by the late storm."

At that same term of court the committee for the jail construction appeared and made the following report, "To the Police Court of Fannin County. The undersigned having 'been appointed by the Police Court of Fannin County a committee to superintend the building of a jail in and for said county have to state that the contract for the building of the jail was made by a committee that preceded them, that the contract was taken by Messrs. Thompson and Williams at seven thousand three hundred dollars, that the bill of extras for work done not mentioned in the specifications, two hundred and twelve dollars and 27 cents. That of this sum the county has paid four thousand and eight hundred dollars leaving a balance yet due upon the contract of two thousand seven hundred twelve dollars and 27 cents. Your committee are willing and believe it right to receive the jail and ask that the Clerk be directed to issue a warrant or warrants upon the Treasurer for the above named balance and that the same warrants bear interest a the rate of two percent from the time they are presented until they are paid. Your committee ask that they be relieved from any further duty and that this Honorable Court allow them $50 each for their services. Signed F.D. Piner, James K. Blair."

The Court ordered the report be accepted and that the Clerk issue the warrants on the Treasurer as suggested in the report.

Seven thousand post war dollars were probably as difficult for the Fannin County Commissioners to expend as had the fourteen hundred dollars spent on the first primitive county jail some twelve years earlier. Although this second jail, on the face of it, would seem to have been as primitive as the first structure, lacking in individual cells and other humane facilities, it evidently served its purpose.

The building continued to be operated by the county for the next fifteen years. Only rarely do the Commissioner's minutes reveal any activity or expenditures for the jail and these are minor.

One interesting comment appears in the entry for October 4, 1870. At that session of the court "it is ordered that the presiding Justice (County Judge) employ some person to repair the 'breach' in the jail and report to the next term of court." At the next term Ellis Tucker was paid $160.00 for "blacksmithing the breach at the jail." It might be informative to know the Clerk's definition of the word breach. The word originated in Middle English and from that time the definitions have always been to break, rift, rupture, a break in a wall or fortification. Did Fannin County have a jail break in 1870? The records tell us nothing.

The records from the intervening years from the opening of the jail until its replacement in 1886 show only occasional repairs or necessary additions. One humorous addition is found in 1872. The court "ordered that the Mayor of Bonham be allowed to erect a 'calaboose' on the jail yard and occupy the same indefinitely." The assumption being that this was possibly the first city jail in Bonham which was to be occupied by prisoners and not "occupied indefinitely by the mayor."

As the closing days of this structure neared, one of the most talked about events in Fannin County history occured which will be detailed in an upcoming column.