Friday, June 27, 2014

An inside look at a 19th century jail in Fauquier County, Va.

The Fauquier History Museum, in Warrenton, Va., is located west on I-66 about 45 minutes to an hour outside the District. The museum is perhaps one of the best preserved jails from an earlier era in this region.

Old Jail in Warrenton, Virginia

Old Jail, located in the historic district of Warrenton, Virginia (note name has changed since I took this image last year)
The Fauquier History Museum (formerly known as the Old Jail Museum) is comprised of two historical buildings that were part of a prison built in the early 19th century. The jail was established in 1808, and a secondary building was built behind the original structure in 1824. Over the years additional security doors and a maximum security "cage" were added just after the turn of the century. In total, the jail was operational for over 150 years, closing for good in 1966.

According to the museum, the prison originally had no jailer and prisoners were left alone and the sheriff would drop in with a daily meal (they hoped!)

When the second building was added, the 1808 building was converted into housing for the jailer and his family.

Upon arrival in the museum's entrance in the brick building built in 1808, you might never know you were standing in a former jail. The four-room building has been converted into museum rooms. There is also a kitchen, built in 1824, that still remains and is stocked with historical artifacts. However, when you walk out the first building and into the second, it is clear where you are as you enter the second building.

The building's kitchen, which was added in 1824.

Visitors can tour the exhibits and also get a good look at the structure of both the 1808 and 1824 buildings. While the secondary jail building also houses some museum displays, you definitely get a more of a "feel" of how it was during the days the structure housed prisoners.

One of the former cells located in the "new" jail, built in 1823.

Window from the old jail - notice the horizontal bars

Some walls of the old cells added in 1909 contain carvings, etchings and other notations. 
One room in particular is rather chilling with its metal cells, along with the carvings in its walls and peeling paint. This maximum security cell block contains a heavy-duty metal unit that was added to the room in 1909. Especially as you look outside the windows, which are double windows with several feet in between. In total, the exterior walls of the "new" jail building are 4-feet thick. 

 You can see the thickness of the walls between this double barred window

Sun streams through one of the cells

Originally scheduled to be demolished once operations ceased, the plans to flatten the building and turn it into a parking lot were changed. Instead, the Old Jail buildings were preserved and converted into a museum, according to a handout prepared by the Fauquier Historical Society.

The group has done a remarkable job in preserving this historical landmark. I'll be writing more about the museum's other (non-jail) related exhibits in the near future (update June 28 to add link to related post about the exhibits).

The museum is open daily, except Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is located at 10 Ashby St. in Warrenton, Va. Admission is free for this self-guided tour, but donations are accepted. Also, which is new since the last time I visited, there are guided tours, see the Fauquier History Museum website for more details.

(Note: The museum is closed on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Day)

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