MUNFORDVILLE — Originally constructed as a jail and built around the turn of the century, the walls on the second floor of the building that now houses the Hart County Sheriff’s Office tell tales of woe and waiting.
The exact age of the jail is gone with the memories of the people who once lived there, both inmates who stayed on the second floor and former jailers who lived on the first floor of the red brick building. Metal housing for the cell doors has a date of 1910 in raised numbers on it. Other than inmate carvings and drawings, that is the only reference to date the building. A courthouse fire in 1928 destroyed all the county’s records.
Now used for storage, the individual cells – 10 in all – still exist with the metal bars and the bunk bed frames. On the walls in one cell are red ink marks counting off the days a former inmate served. Hand-drawn calendars in other cells apparently helped other inmates track their time behind bars.
Carved into the metal framework of the cell doors is the name Donald Ray Goodman, the date Sept. 9, 1955, and “1 year” written underneath. A back wall above the old metal dining table wall depicts an unflattering rendition of swine dressed as police officers and makes a profane reference to a long gone constable.
If only the walls could really talk, perhaps they would tell other stories, those of home-cooked meals, front porch sitting, downtown taverns on Saturday nights and Harvey Long.
“When Granddaddy was sheriff, there were all kinds of taverns,” said Macy McDowell, a member of the Hart County Historical Society, referring to her grandfather who served as sheriff in the late 1920s. “I can remember them talking about people being really happy on Saturday night. They would shoot off their guns on the square,” she said about the tavern patrons who owed their Saturday night happiness to their liquid entertainment that would later land them in the county jail.
“I can remember Harvey Long,” Sheriff Boston Hensley said. Hensley, a retired Kentucky State Police trooper, was assigned to Hart County for the latter part of his career.
Long was a frequent resident at the jail – sometimes by choice and sometimes not. The former inmate would occasionally find himself on the wrong side of the law and wind up spending stints in county lockup. But even when he wasn’t an inmate, he enjoyed hanging out at the jail and would sit around outside offering to shine people’s shoes if they would buy him a cheeseburger from the pool hall on the square, Hart County Deputy Sheriff Fran Bowsher said.
To the locals, the pool hall cheeseburgers were the stuff legends are made of.
“He said, ‘Buy me a cheeseburger, and I’ll shine yourshoes,’ ” Bowsher recalled about Long. Before becoming a deputy, Bowsher worked for the ambulance service, which was also housed on the first floor of the jail. Back in those days, the ambulance personnel, if they were not on a run, helped hand out food trays to the inmates. If the radio operators got busy, Long would find himself on the right side of the law answering radio calls.
McDowell remembers former jailers sitting on the black, metal glider on the front porch talking to visitors. The metal glider still sits out front.
“You could always hear the inmates,” McDowell said.
Before the days of central heat and air, the second floor was the hottest place in the building, former jailer Robert Logsdon said. He was one of the last jailers to use the old jail.
“It was quite a bit different than now,” Logsdon said. “It was only me and my wife, and we had a part-time cook. The ambulance service was there. They were a big help. They would serve meals. Of course now, you’ve got lots of deputy jailers that are trained. Back then you didn’t have training.
“At breakfast they got pastries and coffee,” he said. “The cook cooked big meals then: beans, potatoes and some kind of meat and bread; and usually she would fix some kind of dessert like a pound cake. It wasn’t bad. Sometimes if it was late in the evening, some (state) troopers would come by to see if there was anything left over. I guess they did sample it some if there was anything left. There wasn’t usually much left.”
During Logsdon’s short time at the jail in the mid-1980s, the inmates weren’t actually locked away in their cells. They did sleep in their bunks. But they could roam the second-floor area and often sat outside on the back metal steps that were screened in to prevent anyone from getting out.
“I never had any trouble out of anyone,” he said. “We didn’t have any Dillingers come through here.”
In the building’s attic, a giant wooden rain barrel still sits, another vestige of bygone days. At one time, it was presumably used to provide water for the jail in the days before modern plumbing. Logsdon didn’t recall it ever being used.
Hensley, whose office occupies the building, is proud of the preserved heritage in the old jail. Keys to get into the second floor jail cell area are on an oversized, round key ring and are about the size of today’s police radios.
The old boiler heating system just stopped working last year. But all the white radiators with raised lion heads in the corners will remain in the building, as will the fireplace directly behind Hensley’s desk. He plans to preserve the building’s historic fixtures.
“I’ve got a lot of memories here,” Hensley said.