Ghosts tune up for tours of the historic old jail

Published 12:07 pm Thursday, October 12, 2023

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Looking for something to tickle your scary bone? A yearly tradition is about to descend upon Claiborne County with the 10th Annual Historic Old Jail Tour, slated for Oct. 20-21.

The sound of creaking doors on rusty hinges mingles with the unmistakable murmuring of ghosts and goblins as they tune up their stage-worthy bits to enhance the tales told as guides lead brave souls who enter there.

The structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the oldest free-standing jail and the third-oldest one of its kind in the country.

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The Old Jail had quite the remarkable and scary past during its heyday between1819 and 1931.

The infamous ‘hanging doors’ drew many a crowd back in the day. Folks packed a picnic lunch and took off from communities near and far to witness the end of the scallywag awaiting his doom. Back in the day, it was truly an event any ‘sane’ individual would never miss. Families and friends excitedly discussed the goings on as they kept one eye on the hanging doors.

Anticipation mounted to a crescendo as the bullpen door swung open at the appointed time, the convicted taking his last few steps in this life to the hanging doors for his public execution. Witnesses to the hanging would spend the next days and weeks, sometimes months to years, retelling what they saw.

The two-story limestone and brick building was constructed with double walls, the inside wall consisting of wood frame. The outer wall was made with rock. The first floor of the stone foundation basically served as the entryway. A flight of stairs led to the brick section of the structure which was used as the main part of the jail. In the center of the second floor stood a single ‘bull pen’ cell with open hallways along each side of the steel bars.

The structure has undergone some impressive renovations since being handed over to the Claiborne County Historical & Genealogical Society. A new roof was installed in 2012. The following year, federal grants helped pay for repairs to the front and south sides of the building to prevent further deterioration.

Plans continue to be developed for massive renovation of the interior to restore the structure to as near the original as possible.

The Historic Old Jail Tour will run on Oct. 20-21 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Admission for adults is $6 each and $3 each for those under the age of 12 years. Babes in arms are admitted free of charge.

Proceeds will benefit the continued restoration of the Old Jail.

The Historical Society will also participate in the annual Halloween on Main Street, scheduled for Oct. 31, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Just drop by the Old Jail after your trick-or-treat run up Main Street. Volunteers will be handing out candy and tee-shirts while they last. Other surprises are expected.

The Old Jail is located on Spring Street, just off Highway 33 in Tazewell, between First Century Bank and Cash Express.

For more information, call the office at: 423-526-5737 or email your research questions to:

The Claiborne County Historical &Genealogical Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the history of Claiborne County.

You may mail your tax deductible contributions or annual membership dues to CCHGS; P.O. Box 32, Tazewell TN 37879.