Mills County, Iowa

1881 Mills County History

The county has not been without criminals of a dangerous character, men whose utter disregard for law and order, and the rights of citizens and property has been such as necessitated incarceration, sometimes for lengthy periods. To care properly for men of this class there was erected, in 1853, a substantial log building, to be used for jail purposes. The structure was composed of hewn logs and heavy planks, made doubly secure by heavy spikes driven in at regular short distances.

In this structure was confined the early criminals. The jail stood in the rear of the present site of Hinchman's drug store, on the west side of the square. There was nothing inviting in its appearance, and judging from the repeated condemnation of the earlier grand juries, was not at all inviting in its interior arrangements and conduct.

The strength of the walls was not, however, sufficient to prevent the escape of prisoners almost as soon as incarcerated. The reports of the sheriffs to the grand juries, and of these last named bodies to the district court, are filled with the names of those who escaped jail.

One, in 1857, is remarkable for the closeness of the escape upon the committal. The sheriff says: "James Orton and Silas Woodford, described in the calendar by John Hoynie, sheriff of said county, filed in open court, August 10, 1857, made their escape from the jail on the night of the 10th of August, A.D. 1853, being the same night after the jail first came under my charge, by boring through the wall and digging out." Previous to this, in the September term, 1855, the grand jury reported that "they examined the jail and found it defective in the following particulars, co-wit: the walls of said jail are not comfortable for all kinds of weather; no suitable provision made for warming the rooms, the lock upon the outer door is defective."

It has elsewhere been noticed that there was, for some years, no proper place to care for the valuable and important records of the county. In this same report the grand jury called attention to this matter in the following language:

In the examination of the county records the jury find that there is no safe and convenient place for the keeping of the public records and papers, where they can be secure from fire and other casualties, they therefore recommend that a good fire proof safe be procured for the deposit of such records and papers at as early a day as possible."

Previous to the report of the grand jury for the September term, 1857, the county judge and prosecuting attorney, at the February term of the same year, had called attention to the fact "that they found said jail exceeding dirty, the floor was covered with chips and ashes, and the cleanliness of the apartments wholly neglected, that no calendar of the prisoners is kept as required by law, and that the papers pretaining thereto are not to be found." The gentlemen making this report were O.N. Tyson, county judge, and J.W. Russell, prosecuting attorney. The report was followed by a change in the condition of the jail, as well as by one in its keeper, the former being consequent, it is to be presumed, upon the latter.

The old jail was made to subserve the interests of the county until 1869, when it was torn down, and its valuable portions used for other purposes. Measures had been taken in 1868 to provide a suitable jail, when, at the January session of the board of supervisors, the following resolution was offered and adopted:

Resolved, That D.C. Briggs, Jas, H. Wing, E.C. Bosbyshell and William Wheeler be and they are hereby appointed a committee to procure a plan and specifications for a jail house to be erected in Glenwood, Mills County; said house, exclusive of cells, not to cost over three thousand dollars, and that they be required to report the same with all the information they may derive on the subject, to this board at its next meeting.

At the March session in 1868, the committee appointed at the January meeting on the jail question, as reported as follows:

Mr. Chairman: Your committee have had the matter of erecting a jail under consideration, and direct me to report as follows: We would recommend that the plans and specifications reported by your committee appointed at the last meeting of the board, be adopted with such alterations as the jail commissioner hereafter constituted, shall deem expedient, provided that such alterations shall not materially increase the expense of the original plan, to-wit: three thousand dollars, and C.B. Stande, E.B. Sampson, William Wheeler and William Kempton be appointed commissioners to let and superintend the building of said jail, and that said commissioners be directed to procure four iron cells and place them in the building for the safe keeping of prisoners; and that the clerk be directed to issue orders on the jail fund on the order of said commissioners.

In accordance with these resolutions and plans the contract for building the jail was let. Before it was completed the grand jury, August 21, 1869, made the following report, looking toward the proper safe construction of the building then in process of erection:

"We, the grand jury of Mills County, recommend that the jail of said county be fixed as follows: that the floor, ceiling and walls be lined with boiler iron, and that the locks on the doors leading into the room where the cells are, and the locks on all the cell doors should be fixed more permanent and safe by putting on a harp of sufficient length at the sides to receive two bolts, well screwed in at each end, and that there be a piece or strip of iron at least one half inch thick, on the side opposite the harp, so that the bolts fastening the harp may screw through it solid, and then cut the screw bolt off solid on both sides.

Foreman Grand Jury.

In accordance with these suggestions the building was further strengthened.

The site of the jail is almost directly east of the position of the old log jail, though across the square and in the rear of the court-house. The cost of the building as first erected was $5,599, which sum, included the cost of the iron cells, doors and window frame, which were made in Cincinnati, Ohio, and purchased by a special committee sent to that city by the board of jail commissioners.

The building has been subsequently enlarged to nearly double its former capacity. The enlargement was not suffered to do under contract, and cost the county less than one thousand dollars.

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