Old Hamilton County Jail

The old jail in Jasper has a rich and colorful history, according to historian Johnny Bullard, a life-long resident of Hamilton County. Built in 1893, the old jail at 501 NE 1st Ave. was home to many lawbreakers over the years, and as old buildings go, it comes with many legends, a lot of them spooky in nature.

 

According to county records, the two-story, fireproof brick, steel and concrete structure was Hamilton County’s only jail and was last utilized as a jail around the year 1984.

When the jail was in operation there were separate cell areas for white men, African Americans and women. It also had a separate cell for solitary confinement.

Records show there were babies brought into the world and men taken from the world in this building, and actual photographs of what is believed to be the last legal hanging East of the Mississippi are on display.

 

Historians claim that two African Americans and one Caucasian man were hanged from the tower and those hangings brought out throngs of local citizens to watch the primitive executions. There were also several alleged deaths inside the jail, including one woman who committed suicide and a man who was killed within the prison.

Bullard said he recalled hearing of three separate hangings at the jail. According to historians, either the last two or last three legal executions by hanging east of the Mississippi were held at this jail.

 

One notable hanging occurred in 1916. Sheriff’s Officer W. Raiford Royals, who died in the line of duty, was shot and killed by Walter Durham of Hahira, Ga. on the steps of a colored rooming house near the G.S. & F. Depot in Hamilton County on April 10, 1916. He left behind a wife and six children.
Durham was tried and found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death by hanging, which was carried out Sept. 8, 1916, by order of the governor of the state of Florida at that time, Park Trammell.

 

On July 7, 1983, the old jail was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and now serves as the Hamilton County Historical Museum.

The jail, many say, is haunted by the ghosts of its former residents, and it has been visited by several paranormal investigators over the years who found evidence of spirits living there, such as odd noises, eerie voices and distinct footsteps.

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