Restored 1891 County Jail re-dedicated Wednesday

A year-long restoration project at the 127-year-old Authentic Old Jail Museum will culminate with a re-dedication, ribbon cutting ceremony, and presentation of a $5,000 donation to St Augustine Police Chief Barry Fox, for the St. Augustine Police Benevolent Organization.

The re-dedication, hosted by Historic Tours of America and Old Town Trolley Tours of St. Augustine for media and esteemed guests, will include various public and civic officials as well as Ed Swift III, President of Historic Tours of America, along with company leaders and cast members.

“The restoration work was more than just cosmetic as Hurricane Irma caused severe damage to the Old Jail Museum last year.  Interior steel girders were collapsing, and the entire roof was starting to weaken as parts were torn off by the hurricane,” Dave Chatterton, General Manager of Old Town Trolley Tours and Attractions of St. Augustine, told Historic City News.

Dave Chatterton

After seeing cracks in the building’s foundation and thick cement walls, its owner and caretaker, Historic Tours of America, Inc. was quick to initiate a $1 million, major restoration project to save the national treasure.

The renovated facility, now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, served as the actual St Johns County Jail from 1891 until 1953.  The Old Jail Museum’s unique history is filled with intriguing stories about the facility’s prisoners and practices. The jail’s sheriff, Joe Perry, had a reputation as being a harsh and strict warden and one of the toughest in the South. Also featured in the museum is the history of judicial practices in the 19th century along with weapons and artifacts.

“The Old Jail Museum is back in order including newly recreated interiors of the sheriff’s office, the jailer’s sleeping quarters, parlor, kitchen, and the prisoner’s cell blocks,” said Chatterton.

Dave Chatterton

Henry Flagler, known as the father of modern-day St. Augustine, and early Miami and Palm Beach, Florida, will be played by local author and actor John Stavely who will visit with event guests and speak about the initial construction of the authentic Old Jail.

The previous county jail in St. Augustine was built a few blocks away from Henry Flagler’s downtown hotel; which was too close for comfort at the time. Flagler asked that the new jail be built at the current location. P.J. Pauley Jail Company, the same contractors responsible for building Alcatraz in San Francisco, was employed to construct the new county jail.

The exterior Romanesque Revival appearance of the museum was designed as a Victorian house which belies the stark reality of the interior.  In 1891, with the opening of his Ponce de Leon Hotel, Flagler wanted to ensure a safe and pleasant environment for his patrons by creating a secure fortress to house criminals. It was important to Flagler that the exterior appearance of the fortress wouldn’t disrupt the majestic atmosphere of the Ancient City.

A ribbon cutting will feature St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce officials on Wednesday, September 26th from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. at the attraction located at 167 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine.  Live music and entertainment provided by local group “Ball and Chain Gang” will include the band costumed in prison stripes.  Food and beverage will be provided by award-winning Smokin D’s BBQ.

Adults and children are entertained all year, except on Christmas Day, by costumed actors who portray deputies from the early days.  Chad Light, a renowned local actor, will be portraying an 1891 deputy sheriff and is slated to arrive for the event on horseback. 

Visitors gain knowledge about one of just a few jails of its kind still standing in the United States.  The Old Jail Museum is located at Old Town, along with the Old Town Trolley main station, The Oldest Store Experience, The St. Augustine History Museum, and Gator Bob’s Gift Shop.  Trolleys, shuttle transportation and entertainment stops are featured throughout historic St. Augustine for visitors and residents offering 23 stops with more than 100 points of interest. The trolleys are eco-friendly and noise sensitive to the surroundings and neighborhoods around the city.  Free parking is available onsite.

The September 26 event is designed to share the excitement of the Old Jail Museum and St. Augustine’s rich heritage and unique personalities which is an important role for Old Town Trolley Tours and its 16-year community entertainment partnership.

St. Augustine Police Benevolent Organization is a 501 (c) (4) nonprofit founded more than 50 years ago to aid in the welfare of the public, police employees, and their families.

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