Henderson County, Kentucky

Henderson County Jails


The very first public building erected in Henderson, in the year of 1799, was a jail house.  The county has had several jails since that time, and every time a new one has been built, it has been bigger and better than ever.

The first jail to be built upon the public square in the town was built on contract let to Jonathan ANTHONY for a price of $339.  The new jail was not much as to architectural beauty and finish.  It had two stories and two doors.  This was an improvement over the log affair that was used.  It stood about the intersection of First and Main Streets at the corner of the courthouse yard.  The courthouse then occupied the site of the present Hancock House stable.  The hill on which the courthouse now stands and the public square property were covered with a thick growth of forest.
The new jail was two stories and had two doors.  One door opened into a lower story.  The other was a trap door opening into the upper story.  The lower story was called the dungeon for there was no window light or light hole.  The upper story was the debtors prison and had the only window in the entire building.  There was no fireplace in the jail.  In the cold weather the prisoners either had to do exercises or go to bed to keep warm.  It had been reported that the jail was about on a par with the cattle stables in the county at this time – in some respects, not even as good.

In 1807 another jail was ordered built.  It proved to be so insecure that during each year of its existence more money was paid out for guards that the building cost originally.  Benjamin TALBOTT was the contractor who had constructed this jail.  It was somewhat of an improvement over the first jail and had a more commodious debtor'’ department.  Through this jail was used until the year of 1820, it was never regarded as a safe prison.

On September of 1819, the county entered into a contract with William R. BOWEN by which it was agreed that he could construct a new jail house for the sum of $3,500.  The new building was of brick, forty feet long, twenty-six feet wide, and two stories high.  This building stood on the brow of the courthouse hill for forty-three years.  Outside of necessary repairs it was never much expense to the county.  Only two persons ever escaped from it.  There was still many complaints about the jail.

In June of 1871 the county court appointed C. BAILEY, Isom JOHNSON, and Jackson MCCLAIN to take steps toward the erection of a new jail.  The building was completed at a cost of $33,400, the county having issued bonds with which to pay the bill.

“The History of Henderson County, Kentucky”, Page 104, Editor-in-Chief Frieda Jacobs Dannheiser, Co-Editor Donald Hazelwood.  A project of the Henderson County Genealogical & Historical Society in 1980.

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS