Houston Jail

Compiled by Peter J. Gossett

Hancock County was created on February 12, 1850, the county seat being at what is now known as Old Houston, three miles northeast of the present town of Houston. The county seat, which had a court house, was here until January 22, 1858, when it moved to present Houston, and the name of the county changed to Winston. It is not known whether or not a jail was built at Old Houston. Seven commissioners were elected to find the new county seat at present Houston, and an election was held for citizens to tax themselves to build a court house and jail, which was done. During the War of the Rebellion, many Winstonians were pro-Union, but that did not stop the Confederates and Home Guards making sweeps into Winston County, capturing those who refused to help the Confederacy. These men were put in the jail at Houston, and it is rumored that there were so many, that they had to stand up, as there was no room for everyone to sit down. It seems that this jail was smaller than the present one and had a dirt floor.

To stop this from happening again, those who favored the Union burned their own jail in 1864. The court house was burned on February 23, 1868; the court house and the present jail was built in 1868. It is said that during this time of not having a jail, prisoners were chained to trees, waiting for the circuit judge to arrive and have court. For whatever reason, the commissioners court of Winston County were authorized to build another court house and jail on February 1, 1871; there is no other record of the court house/jail being burned or rebuilt.

Two other major events for the town of Houston were the murders of Thomas Pinkney Curtis and Peyton Baughn, both Probate Judges of Winston County. Thomas was killed by Home Guards, after the county's money and salt were taken from the jail, on January 19, 1864. Peyton Baughn, who had previously been tax assessor and collector and was crippled and used a crutch, was murdered between the jail and court house on March 4, 1869.

The present jail at Houston, built in 1868, was made out of hand-hewn logs. The logs were laid long ways under the "sub-floor," and they were laid flat across the top. The top of the jail was built in a way to shed the water. The boards used in building the jail were cut on an up and down saw mill (which means they were pushed through by hand) on Sipsey River at Partridge's Mill and were generally over two inches thick, twelve to fourteen inches wide. So the boards could be nailed to the jail, they used horseshoe (cut) nails, made by a blacksmith, and the nails were nailed together so thick to discourage any jail breaks that might occur. By nailing the boards to the logs on the walls, top, and floor, it made a very secure jail at that time. The windows were approximately 14 x 14. The jail has two rooms, and the bathroom consists of small holes in the back wall.

Since Cullman County was created partly out of Winston County on January 24, 1877, Houston was no longer in the center part of Winston, and an election was held, which resulted in moving the county seat from Houston to Double Springs, effective July 23, 1883. Sometime after the move of county seat, the jail was sold to others and privately owned and used as a house until the early 1960s. A porch was even added at one time, which has now been removed. It was restored in 1977 by the county commission by covering the jail with a different top, as well as replacing some rotten boards. They put white oak shingles on the new roof, which covered the entire jail.

The Houston Jail Renovation Project was organized on February 7, 2006. On March 25, 2006, the top of the jail put on in 1977 was torn off, with plans to build a different top to keep as much rain off the jail as possible. This organization changed their name to the Houston Historical Society on May 16, 2006. By 2007, money was being raised for the restoration of the jail, at a cost of $84,000, and work was started on it on September 18, 2007, by a company based in Fairview, Tennessee, called Leatherwood, Inc. The jail itself was taken down, the rotten and termite-infested pieces of wood thrown out, all boards treated, and the jail reassembled.