History of County Jails in McLean County, Il
From: History of McLean County Illinois
By: Jacob L. Hasbrouck
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianoplis 1924

County Jails. - The first county jail was erected in 1831 on the north line of the court house yard, 16x16 feet in dimensions, and costing $331. It was built of hewed logs and contained one room above the other. One of the rooms of the jail was a dungeon. On July 4, 1836, the first jail delivery of the county occurred, when one Dick Morrow, deliberately crawled out of the window between the bars and began looking for the sheriff to help him celebrate the 4th. In 1837 the jail was condemned as unfit for use, and on July 6, 1836, the board contracted with Dr. Isaac Baker for a new jail. The second jail was built at the corner of Market and Center streets. It was of brick exterior and with hewed logs on the inside below. The top floor was finished like a dwelling house. This building cost $1,500 and was used as a jail until 1849. It was torn down in 1857. The third jail was built at the northwest corner of the court house square in 1848, the contract going to William F. Flagg for $2,216. It was a two story brick structure 20x41. There were two compartments in the jail proper, one for persons arrested for crime, the other for those imprisoned for debt. Outside the building was a stockade, with toilet accommodations, etc. An ell built on the main part was for residence purposes for the jailer.

The fourth jail was built at the corner of Center and Market, on the site where the second jail was torn down. It was erected in 1857 and cost $13,150. It was two stories in height and contained the sheriff's residence in addition to the jail. This building, meant to house ten prisoners, was considered a model when it was erected. It was continued in use for 20 years, during which the county grew from 22,000 to nearly 60,000 population, and of course the jail was outgrown. Sometimes there were 40 prisoners in the space meant for ten. George Perrin Davis, chairman of the committee on public buildings, made a report to the board of supervisors in 1879 condemning the building for further use as a jail. There had been several escapes of prisoners owing to the weakened condition of the iron gratings of the cells. The matter hung fire before the board until March 8, 1881, when the contract for the fifth and last jail was let.

The jail at the southwest corner of Center and Market streets was the scene of the only lynching in the history of McLean County. One night in October, 1831, Frank Pierce, who had been put in jail on a charge of stealing a horse from Guy Carlton, tried to break out. In so doing, he secured a gun and shot the jailer, Teddy Franks, who died shortly afterward. A crowd gathered at the jail, and in spite of the efforts of Sheriff Joseph Ator, to prevent their getting the prisoner, they dragged him from the jail and hanged him to a tree in a vacant lot at the northeast corner of the street. Afterward the crowd quietly dispersed.

The present jail stands on a lot at the corner of Madison and Monroe Streets; is built of brick and limestone trimmings, and contains the jail proper and the sheriff's residence. It cost $72,000 when built, and has been several times remodeled. The residence is separated from the jail proper, so that the sheriff's family is not required to mingle with prisoners except when necessary for feeding them. In addition to the usual cell tiers, there are compartments for boys, for women, and separate rooms for the temporary detention of insane persons. It is equipped with suitable sanitary arrangements. Of late years many of the federal prisoners sentenced to confinement by judges at Peoria, Springfield and other federal courts, have been sent to McLean County to serve their sentences, owing to the fact that the jail in this county is superior to those of many other counties.

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