THE HISTORY OF CLARK COUNTY
Chapter XI, 12 August 1909 -- Thorp Courier, Clark County, Wisconsin
Written by R. J. MacBride and transcribed by Crystal Wendt.
THE FIRST CLARK COUNTY JAIL AND OTHER JAILS.
"Stones walls do not a prison make
Nor iron bars a cage."
Sir Richard Lovelace.
From 1866 to 1870, the county settled up rapidly. The increase in population from 1,001 in 1865, to 3,450 in 1870, showed a gain in five years of nearly three hundred per cent.
Many homesteads were taken up under the United States laws, notably in the central and eastern parts of the county.
Up in 1866, there had been but one bridge in the county, built across Black River, this was at Weston Rapids, built some ten or twelve years prior to 1866.
On the third of January 1866, the county board ordered a bridge to be built across the Black River at a point about six miles south of Neillsville, on the same site practically as that occupied by the present existing bridge, - and three thousand dollars in tax sale certificates were set aside for that purpose. The contract for building this bridge was let to E. H. McIntosh and Samuel Cawley, for the sum of $4500.00 and the bridge was completed that year.
At a subsequent meeting of the board in the same year the sum of six hundred and sixty-seven dollars was appropriated to build a bridge in the town of Levis, across Wedge Creek, on the main highway, near the mouth of the Creek.
In the fall of 1866, John S. Dore commenced the publication of the Clark County Journal, which paper continued in existence for three or four years when its publication was ceased.
The county had been organized nearly ten years and although it had a Court House it had no jail.
In April 1866 proposals for building a jail were invited, the building to be completed before the opening of the September term of court.
Hewett Woods & Co. were the successful bidders and they were awarded the contract.
The first occupant of the jail was one George Brant. His offense if he committed one was a trivial character, for he only remained a week or then days, and seemed to enjoy the distinction of being the first tenant.
Another of the early occupants was one Joseph Finley. He was a shingle maker, making shingles out of saw logs, and in no wise particular as to the ownership of the logs. He was a character unique in several ways -- he was a pauper, was never sober, was insane, and enjoyed the luxury of having a wooden leg.
He maintained a residence in the jail at different intervals for several years.
On one occasion when Judge Bunn was holding court in the old frame Court House, shortly after he became Judge, a case then on trail was nearly finished and the Judge was about to charge the jury, when the peg-leg of Finley was heard coming up the stairs.
Finley was unknown to the Judge, the Court room was quiet save for the noise on the stairs. As Finley entered the Court room wearing his hat, the Judged peered quizzically at him over his spectacles; --- on marched the intruder up to the Judge’s desk, where in a loud tone of voice he inquired, "Say Judge, can you tell me if John Currier is in town?" Such a violation of the judicial proprieties, shocked even the lawyers of forty years ago.
The old jail (it was new then) was fearfully and wonderfully made. It was a building about 20 by 24 feet, one story high, divided into one large room and some small cells, there was no vestibule or lobby. The outside door once passed, the jail was reached. It was made of oak plank, laid flat, the planks spiked together.
An immense number of spikes were used, being driven through the planks as close as possible. There was grated iron door inside, and a wooden spiked door outside, which was firmly secured with a pad-lock and an iron hasp. The jail was never painted or sided up while owned by the county.
It cost the taxpayers of the county thirteen hundred dollars to build it, and fifteen years after, on the 14th day of January 1881, it was sold by the county to F. D. Linsay for the sum of twenty-five dollars.
So far as the building is concerned it was probably just as good in 1881 as in 1866. It is practically indestructible, will never wear out, and cannot be torn down. It has got more old iron in it, than any building of its size in Wisconsin.
In 1882 it became possessed by the city of Neillsville, and it now graces the south end of the city hall lot at Neillsville, used at times as a lock up and at other times as a store house for tools belonging to the city. It has been sided up and painted and looks much less disreputable as a building than it did when it was new.
The second jail was built by James Hewett, under a contract with the county, supervised by a committee of the county board: with the jail was also built a sheriff’s residence, built of frame, two stories high, immediately adjoining the communicating with the jail. The sheriff’s residence faced the south. The cost of this second jail, together with cells, including the residence part was approximately eight thousand dollars.
The jail and residence were built during the year 1881, and accepted by the county on the 12th day of January 1882.
The committee who supervised the construction of the jail; in their report to the county accepting the same, state that it was a much better building than the original plans called for.
Notwithstanding this in a few years the jail proved unsatisfactory, it was not modern, was unsanitary, and during the last few years of its existence, is was condemned by the state authorities.
Finally on the 9th of January, 1896, the county board adopted an ordinance for the building of a new jail, and appropriating twelve thousand dollars therefore. A committee of five, consisting of Hiram N. Withee, W. H. Mead, W. S. Irvine, Charles Burpee, and Henry S. Mulvey, were appointed to secure plans and let the contract to the lowest bidder.
By the terms of the ordinance the building was required to be built of brick, iron and steel, with stone foundations, to be as nearly fire proof as possible, to be heated with steam, provided with hot and cold water, and to have sewerage connections.
In March, 1896, the committee reported that in their judgment it would be fatal mistake to build the new jail back of the court house.
This report was presented to the board May 13, 1896, and suggestions were made that the city of Neillsville should furnish a lot, and the jail built at some point other than in the court house square, this report was laid on the table, and the ordinance providing for a new jail was repealed.
At the annual meeting in November 1896, the county board adopted another ordinance for the building of a jail; by its terms the jail building was to be erected in the court house square east of the court house. Fifteen thousand dollars was appropriated for the purpose, and a committee of five, consisting of supervisors L. M. Sturdevant, H. S. Mulvey, W. S. Irvine, Ole Samulson and Jose J. Shafer were appointed to secure plans and let the contract for the new jail and a new jailor’s residence.
There were strenuous efforts made to have the new buildings located elsewhere than east of the court house. The committee unanimously reported to the board that the location should be changed, and that it was much preferable to build on the court house square at the northwest corner there of. The recommendation of the committee was on January 14, 1897, overruled by the board, the committee were ordered to build east of the court house and to sell the old sheriff’s residence to the highest bidder.
The residence was sold and removed to the corner of 5th and Court streets, Neillsville, where it now stands, a very near neighbor to the old frame court house across the street from it.
This new jail and residence for the sheriff was completed in the year 1897 and is well built has all modern conveniences and is a handsome structure that will serve the purposes for which it was intended for many years to come. The plans for the jail and residence were drawn by Stolze & Schick architects of La Crosse, Wis.
In the year 1866 Clark county was a portion of the 32nd Senatorial district, and we were represented in the state senate, that , and the preceding year by Joseph G. Thorp, of Eau Claire, from whom the town of Thorp takes its name. There was an exciting election in November, 1866, for county officers; E. H. McIntosh was a candidate for county treasurer and Chauncey Blakeslee was a candidate for clerk of the county board.
The success of John S. Dore’s new paper, the Clark County Journal, depended upon their election.
On the opposition ticket A. G. Manley was the candidate against McIntosh, and W. T. Hutchinson was an opposition candidate for clerk of the board against Mr. Blakeslee. The entire county ticket headed by McIntosh was elected, the following being the successful parties who served the county during the ensuing years of 1867 and 1868: E.H. McIntosh, county treasurer, Chauncey Blakeslee, clerk of the board; William B. Berry, sheriff; Benj. F. French; district attorney; Robert F. Sturdevant, register of deeds; Gustavus Sterns, clerk of the court; James Hewett, surveyor.
With the exception of Robert F. Sturdevant (living at Olympia, Washington) every one of the above are dead. John S. Dore at present a resident of Fresno, California, was county superintendent of schools in 1866, but he was not elected at the November election in that year.
In those days the county school superintendent was always elected in the odd numbered years, as was also the governor and state officers.
At this November election, Jackson and Clark, being in a district together Jerome A. Watrous of Black River Falls, was elected to the assembly, and represented us at the twentieth session of the legislature in 1867.
Colonel Watrous served in the army through the war of the rebellion, and after its close he purchased an interest in the Jackson County Banner, then and now published at Black River Falls. He remained there three or four years, afterwards removed to Milwaukee, and for a number of years edited and published the Milwaukee Sunday Telegraph.
During the Spanish American War he was appointed by President McKinley a paymaster in the regular army; he saw service both in Cuba and the Philippines; he is now living at Whitewater, Wis., having a few years ago reached the compulsory age limit, fixed by law, at which age all army officers retire from active service.
Being on the retired list, if necessity should require it, he is liable to be again called into service, a contingency he probably would welcome.
He is in robust health, and has got a score of years of good service in him.
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