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A postcard of Albert Berghaus’ sketch of John Brown leaving the Jefferson County Jail on Friday, December 2, 1859. The jail was damaged during the Civil War and was removed in 1870. Berghaus was sketch artist for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

The Court House was not the only building damaged during the Civil War. General Imboden’s artillery targeted all of the buildings on Public Square and all were damaged. One post-Civil War visitor to Charlestown (one word in 1869) noted that the jail, like the Court House, was “also roofless and torn out,” adding that both buildings “had been despoiled by soldiers to make quarters.” So, the combination of barracks and bombs bashed both the Court House and the jail rendering them unsuited for use. As mentioned in the Court House article, the ruined state of both buildings, plus the old market house, was among the factors which resulted in the County Seat being moved from Charlestown to Shepherdstown.

While the County Seat was in Shepherdstown, the old Court House and jail in Charlestown were out of the sight but not out of the minds of the Board of Supervisors. Spurred on by grumbling about the crumbling state of the Court House and jail, during its January 1868 session, the Board of Supervisors in Shepherdstown appointed a Charlestown man to “take charge of the Court House and Jail property.” Jonathan H. Haines represented the Charlestown Township on the County Court and as such assumed the role of caretaker of the former county property still standing on Public Square. A tobacconist by trade, there is no record of what work, if any, Haines had done on either the Court House or the jail. The Charlestown papers, especially the Spirit of Jefferson, were skeptical of the court’s motives. Spirit Editor Benjamin Franklin Beall wrote, “this property has already been too long exposed to the storms of winter, and we are glad to see that that there is at least some show that it will now be cared for.” Tongue in cheek, Beall added, “we suggest that for the present, to prevent further vandalism, he [Haines] gather together these relics of the past, and house them under his immense sign.”

Haines ignored the suggestion to move the remains of the Court House and jail to the protection of his store’s sign. Instead he and his fellow supervisors played their ace card—they decided to sell the old jail and the jail lot.

Advertisements for public auctions appeared on Page 3 of the Spirit of Jefferson. The May 4 issue announced that on Saturday, June 5, 1869, at 2 p.m., “The Materials Contained in the OLD JAIL, The Brick as They Stand in the Wall, and Also the Stone Wall back of the Jail, and the Stone contained in the Foundation, and all other materials contained in the Building” would be sold at an auction held in front of the old jail. “Several Iron Doors and Windows” were also advertised for sale effectively eliminating any trace of the old jail. The advert also gave notice that “At the Same Time and Place, The Lot will be sold.” For several months prior to this public notice, there had been rumblings about taking action to bring the County Seat back to Charlestown. The advert turned the rumbling into a roar and a citizens group was formed to pressure the West Virginia Legislature to return the County Seat to its original home.

Two Charlestown residents, William Crow and David Howell, put on their thinking caps and decided to start with the town’s founder—Charles Washington. They knew that Charles had died before his town became the County Seat, but they also knew that his son, Samuel, per his father’s wish, had conveyed the lots on Public Square for public use. Crow and Howell sought to determine who owned the land on Public Square and that led them to Deed Book 1, Page 116. There they discovered that on August 31st, 1801, Samuel Washington and wife Dorothea “did grant, bargain and sell four half Lotts [sic] of ground situate in Charlestown” to 17 “Gentlemen of the county of Berkeley.” Berkeley? Yes, Berkeley County—the act establishing Mr. Jefferson’s County would not take effect for another two months.

To Crow and Howell, the verbiage of the deed seemed to make it clear that the lots were given to “the inhabitants of the town,” but that if the ground was not used for public buildings, in their opinion the ownership of the lots on Public Square would revert to the Washington family. They sought legal advice and approached attorney John Willoughby Kennedy who concurred with their view. Kennedy drew up an injunction to stop the sale of the jail property, reached out to his friend Richard Blackburn Washington, a great-great nephew of Charles Washington, and together they approached Judge Joseph A. Chapline. “After examination of the points raised in the bill, which were tersely presented,” Judge Chapline supported Crow and Howell’s opinion, found in favor of Kennedy and Washington, and granted the injunction which stopped the June 5 sale of the jail property.

Fast forward three years and the County Seat was back in Charlestown. Renovations of the old Court House were nearing completion and it was time to address the old jail. A committee comprised of Jacob Philip Entler of Shepherdstown, Jonathan Haines of Charlestown, William Hartman Kable of Kabletown, and Stockton Sponseller of Harpers Ferry was appointed “to examine and select a site for a Jail to be erected in Charlestown.”

It took the committee two months to decide, but in the end they “proposed for the new county jail to be erected on the site of the former building.” So, per the wishes of Town Founder Charles Washington through his son Samuel, the southwest corner of Public Square would, for the time being, remain the property of “the inhabitants of Charlestown.”

Once the site was selected, the Jail Committee turned its attention to “Plans and Specifications for a Jail to be built upon the site of the old one in Charlestown.” Contractors and builders were advised that they had until Tuesday, July 9th to leave their bids with James Lawrence Hooff “at Charlestown.” Plans were submitted by a number of contractors, including several Baltimore architects, but in the end the Jail Committee decided to stay local and chose the drawings submitted by rising star Julius Caesar Holmes. When the disastrous Flood of October 1870 struck Harpers Ferry, Holmes had saved the life of a bed-ridden woman when he cut a hole through the roof of her house and carried her in his arms to safety. Holmes was now in partnership with Henry D. Rust and for the next several decades would be among the leading contractors in Charlestown and Jefferson County.

Holmes’ plans called for a two-story brick building “with a handsome and attractive front of 74 feet on Main [Washington] Street, with a wing running back 55 feet on George Street.” The jail cells, “iron-lined and sealed,” were located in the George Street wing—three nine by twelve-foot cells on the first floor and the same size and number on the second floor. The jailor’s residence and office took up the space on the Washington Street side of the jail. There were two 18 by 24-foot rooms on the ground floor, and three rooms, two 18 by 22 and a smaller 12 by 22-foot room.

All of the rooms had 12-foot ceilings. The basement was divided into three 16 by 18-foot rooms with a “grouted and cemented” floor.

The jail had three entrances: a seven by eight foot porch on the George Street side, and two porches on the Washington Street side—one seven by twenty-four foot “portico” which led to the jail office and a second one seven by eight food porch which entered the jailer’s residence.

The Spirit of Jefferson’s Editor, John W. Dalgarn, kept his eye on the jail’s construction from his perch in Lee Hall (Lee Hall was on the second floor of the Hooff building at 110 East Washington Street). When work on the jail was completed, Dalgarn wrote, “The work upon this building, throughout, has been executed in a neat, handsome and durable manner, with artistic finish, and, as far as we learn, gives general satisfaction to all who have seen it.”

Particular credit was due Julius C. Holmes for his building design, and he and his partner Henry Rust completed all of the carpentry work.

The Tutwiler father and son team, which rebuilt the walls of the Court House, were responsible for the brick and masonry on the new jail.

Once again, the duo of Frank Gallaher and William Kimes combined to finish the jail’s interior walls — Gallaher did the plaster work and Kimes applied the paint.

John Hilbert made and installed the iron fence which topped the Court House wall and was responsible for the “iron-lined and sealed” work in the new jail’s six cells. The jail’s tin roof was installed by Charles Gallaher and George Duke.

The final touch was a brick sidewalk laid by George Armentrout which replaced the old boardwalk.

The new Jefferson County Jail was yet another example of change.

Instead of rebuilding the jail as they had done to the Court House, the Board of Supervisors took a different tack and decided to remove the old jail and build a totally new building.

Before construction could begin on the jail designed by Julius Holmes, the jail where John Brown was incarcerated had to be razed and removed brick by brick to make room for a new jail.

That fact was either unknown or overlooked by postcard vendors who sold cards with the label “County Jail Charlestown, wherein John Brown was imprisoned during trial.”

You can retrace John Brown’s footsteps as he walked out of the Court House headed to the jail on the southwest corner of George and Washington Streets, but you can no longer either see or walk into “the jail where John Brown was imprisoned.”

Doug Perks, a retired history teacher and Shepherdstown resident who serves as the historian at the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, is a contributor to the Spirit of Jefferson.

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