The old Hays County Jail could be restored as a museum within a couple years. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Having acquired additional funding, Hays County officials are poised to proceed with restorations to one of its old jails, a 19th century, two-story limestone structure nestled in the Historic Dunbar District a few blocks from the courthouse square in downtown San Marcos.
The Hays County Commissioners Court accepted a $25,000 grant Tuesday for the jail’s restoration from the Texas Historical Commission (THC), a state agency headquartered in Austin.
In July, the county hired Austin-based architectural firm ClaytonLevyLittle to conduct phase one of the jail restoration project, which involved stabilizing the building’s foundation at a cost of about $26,350. The county will use some of the $63,954 it budgeted this year for phase two of the project, predicted to cost $82,000 for the actual interior and exterior restoration work.
The Hays County Historical Commission (HCHC), which has promoted the jail restoration for 10 years, intends to transform the building into a museum. The museum will house artifacts associated with famous personages from the county’s past, such as items once belonging to John Coffee “Jack” Hays, the Texas Ranger captain and soldier for whom the county is named.
HCHC recently completed a film entitled “Captain Jack, The Story of John Coffee Hays.” The 30-minute documentary recounts the events of Hays’ life between his 1837 arrival in Texas and his death in Oakland, CA, in 1883.
“The museum will basically encompass all of the first floor,” said Hays County Historical Commission Building Committee member Linda Coker at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting. “The second floor will just be used for maybe the Historical Commission offices or something like that, because right now there are no plans to have an elevator or anything to make it handicapped accessible.”
Coker said the yard in which the jail is located will be landscaped to look more like a park – a possible site for future receptions – and the carport therein will be renovated. An outdoor bathroom will also be built.
The jail is located on Fredericksburg Street near Martin Luther King Drive. The jail was built in 1884 and doubled as a home for successive sheriffs, whose families lived upstairs.
Hays County Historical Commission Chair Kate Johnson said the sheriff’s wife probably cooked meals for prisoners. The county used the jail until 1937, when it began incarcerating people on the Guadalupe Street site of what is now Golden Fried Chicken. After that jail was closed, the county built the correctional facility currently located on Uhland Road — though that jail may soon meet the fate of its four predecessors, as it is overcrowded and failed its last two state inspections.
Coker said HCHC members hope the museum will be ready within two years, and she said her organization has not decided whether to support an entry fee.
“We haven’t got that far yet,” Coker said.