Historic Licking County Jail blends history and community

By Nick McWilliams, Sports Director

Pam Jones and Jonathon Boyer have their own daily lives and obligations that keep them busy during the day, but their involvement with the old Licking County Jail adds plenty to that packed schedule.

The pair are members of the Licking County Governmental Preservation Society, which has the main goals of protecting and restoring governmental buildings in the county. Currently, the focus of Jones and Boyer, as well as the rest of the GPS, lies on the jail that housed murders, thieves and bootleggers.

The jail, built in 1889 for $120,000, nearly double the initial estimated cost due to expensive stone from Millersburg, Ohio, was last used to hold prisoners in 1987. According to Jones, the facility housed up to 126 prisoners at a time, even though it’s total capacity was listed at 68. In addition to prisoners, the building also housed the sheriff and family, along with a matron.

The location of fatal heart attacks of four sheriffs and the deaths of multiple inmates, there’s plenty of history inside the walls of what once stood as the finest jail in the county and even the state. Visitors can virtually feel the stories the walls can tell when given a tour.

After nearly a hundred years of operation, the jail could no longer accommodate a rising number of inmates and meet regulations. The facility sat dormant for years, used as office space for a while and eventually acquiring files rather than prisoners.

“Back when they first started it in 2011, back in all of the jail cells there were records,” she said. “And there were huge boxes. I mean, you’re talking probably 2-3,000 boxes, big banker boxes that had to be moved out.”

In 2011, county commissioners made the decision to work towards restoring the building after Jones took them on a tour of the Mansfield Reformatory to pitch bringing the same kind of attraction to Newark. Through various fundraising activities and public support, work began to restore the building to its former glory.

While some areas are being restored to match their former look, Jones said there’s a collective effort to leave some of the areas in their current state, due to Halloween events.

The third floor of the Historic Licking County Jail. Floors 1-3 housed male inmates, while the fourth floor was for women.

After plenty of hard work from volunteers and the GPS, the jail hosts tours, paranormal tours and plenty of events. In July alone, the building will play host to flashlight tours, the Jailbreak 5K, a Uniform Appreciation Day to thank veterans, historic tours and public ghost tours. In September, the jail will host the Jailhouse Rock Beerfest, along with a haunted experience that runs into early November called the Jail of Terror.

It’s enough to keep the GPS busy, given the volunteer status of members. But it’s all in a days work for Boyer, who has found memories of looking at jail while living with his grandmother and going to the grocery store across the street.

“I would always look up at this big building and I would mesmerized by just the look of it, the style of it, from then up until adulthood,” he said. “I can tell you when I was a teenager, I would come here with my friends and we would take out pictures in front of the building, things like that. So it’s always been something I’ve been attracted to … the building itself.”

Fans of history or the paranormal are the most likely to visit, but families looking for an evening activity are also invited to take a look at one of Licking County’s more prominent spots. However, spots fill up fast for the paranormal tours, as Jones said the jail is booked virtually every weekend.

A list of upcoming events can be found at lcjail.org or at 740-345-JAIL.