240 West Indiana Avenue

The Old County Jail

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Supporting the preservation and appreciation of Perrysburg's historic architectural heritage

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The Old County Jail:

 

Much has been written about the historic old Wood County Jail, now an apartment building at 240 West Indiana Avenue at the corner of Findlay Street.

In 1822 Congress enacted a law vesting the title of all unsold lots in Perrysburg to the Wood County commissioners on condition that the county seat be moved here from Maumee and a courthouse and jail be built. If this sounds unusual, it must be remembered that Perrysburg had been created by an act of Congress just six years earlier and was still a wild timbered tract of land with virtually no inhabitants. In fact, there were slightly less than 200 people in all of Wood County at the time.

jail

240 West Indiana Avenue

The following year, the Exchange Hotel and the first courthouse, a two-story log building located nearby along the blazed trail that was to become West Front Street, were built. Material from the jail at Maumee was moved here at a cost of $48, plus an additional $25 allocated for repairs incidental to the move. Square logs were cut, most of them within walking distance of the site, and a two-story jail built with little more than slits for windows. It is said that the contractor took part of the cost (a little over $400) in the form of town lots worth $12 each.

This original jail was soon found to be too small and was enlarged, but it lasted until 1847 when the present building -- a veritable fortress by comparison -- was built on Indiana Avenue. This is now by far the oldest civic structure in town.

From a security standpoint, the new jail was a work of art. Actually, it was the work of a now unknown architect who was paid all of $15 for designing and supervising its construction by Schuyler Beach, a local builder and merchant. The cost was $1,250.

The frame of the building is of black walnut hand-hewn beams with rafters and joints mortised and pinned with wooden pegs. The walls are made of four layers of small handmade brick, but in the jail section proper, the walls and floor are of stone blocks three feet long, two feet thick and two feet high. These are held together by cannonball keys set in hemispheres cut in the top and side of each block. Within these walls was an 8 x 30-foot bullpen with six 5 x 6-foot cells. The bullpen door consisted of two thicknesses of walnut plank one and one half inches thick, with a sheet of lead between and held together by dozens of large iron rivets. One of the original cell doors, made of iron mesh and weighing about 250 pounds, is still intact.

The front of the first floor was the sheriff's residence, and over the years seven different sheriffs lived and worked here. The upstairs was once used as an infirmary for the dangerously insane.

Needless to say, there was never a breakout due to an insecure structure. But there was an escape attempt shortly after the Civil War. Charles Evers, who was to become a Wood County historian, was sheriff at the time when two prisoners ambushed him when he entered the bullpen. His wife, following closely, quickly slammed and locked the door. Mrs. Evers assured them she would never unlock it, even when they threatened to kill her husband. Her plucky gamble paid off and they eventually sulked back to their cells. Even so, a caged prisoner seems never without hope. Many years later a rusty hacksaw blade was found in a crack in the plaster above the door of one cell.

The jail continued in use until 1870 when the county seat moved to Bowling Green. The village then took it over and operated it as the local jail, at least for the time under the care of George B. Crook who was given free residence plus 75 cents per day per prisoner. In 1899 the village built the old brick municipal building adjoining the west side of what is now Mills Hardware on West Second Street. This housed city hall, the police and fire departments and two portable jail cells until the present facilities were built at Indiana Avenue and Hickory Street.

In 1918 William Schlect bought the old county jail building, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hoffmann Sr. later acquired it from him. Charles and Daisy Hoffmann purchased it from his parent's estate in 1957 and remodeled it into a three-apartment facility, carefully preserving its architectural and historical integrity. In 1960 it became the second Perrysburg building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2009, Sharon and David Hoffmann, the fourth owners, moved back to Perrysburg from Dallas and decided to make the jail their home.

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