Old jail? Been there, done that

Published 12:03 am Friday, March 25, 2016

When it comes to building a new county jail, Adams County leaders have “been there, done that.”

Many residents may have forgotten, but the county jail has not always been on the corner of Wall and State streets. More than 40 years ago, the four-story building made of concrete and brick replaced the old county jail that sat next door.

That building is the office for the Adams County Board of Supervisors. The old Victorian building houses the county board room and offices for the supervisors and other county leaders.

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Occasionally, the building is used for ghost tours, where visitors can walk through the old jail cells and see the gallows where inmates were hung. The small dark jail was featured in a couple of scenes for the movie, “Get On Up.”

Imagining the building as a vacant, run-down structure that needs resurrection might be difficult for those who didn’t see it in the 80s and early 90s.

After the new building was constructed next door, county leaders may have forgotten about the building, run out of money to renovate it for another use or had more space than they needed. Whatever the reason, the old jail sat empty for a little more than 15 years before the county decided to renovate and re-use the building for its offices.

Now that supervisors have adopted a resolution seeking permission to build a new jail outside the Natchez city limits, they can confidently say, “been there, done that,” when it comes to deciding the future for the current building.

The resolution, presented by Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten seeking local-and-private legislation from the state legislature, was in response to a court order issued by local circuit court judges Forrest “Al” Johnson and Lillie Blackmon Sanders. The order instructed the county to find out what needs to done to determine the future of the jail, given that the current structure does not meet current prison standards. Since the order was issued in 2014, the county has corrected some problems.

Even still, county leaders admit they are “limping along” until they find a funding source for a new jail — something that will have to be done at some point, as Judge Johnson pointed out Monday.

When that happens supervisors will also have to decide the fate of the current jail.

Will the county leave the current jail vacant and empty for many years when a new facility is built outside the city limits? If not, what will they do with the building and how will it be resurrected?

Monday’s non-binding resolution gives supervisors time to consider those questions and more.

“What will happen to the building?” may be the hardest question to answer.

Demolishing the building is a possibility — one that might be the most expensive, considering the building is built like a bunker out of concrete and brick.

With some modifications, the building could be an ideal storage facility for county records given the fireproof construction of the building. Moving the Chancery Clerk’s office and its associated records might be a good fit.

A little thinking out of the box might also come up with other solutions that might also fit the unique building. Could the building be used as the long sought-after history museum for the city and county? Maybe, maybe not.

While the county considers building a future jail, let’s also plan for a new future for the current facility.

Otherwise it will be left as a black hole in downtown. Haven’t we already been there and done that?


Ben Hillyer is the news editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540.