Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Hanging Tower

This past week, my cousins, my husband, and I drove to nearby Cameron, Texas in Milam county to tour the Milam County Jail. Built in 1895, it has a hanging tower equipped with a trap door. I'd heard of this place and thought, oh boy, fodder for a good story.

The jail was built in the Romanesque Revival style with St. Louis pressed brick, trimmed with stone. The walls are ended with crenelations--ancient military features communicating strength. As was typical during this time period in the state, the ground floor housed the sheriff and his family. An iron door separates the small office from the living quarters.

In 1975, a new jail was built and the old building, still in it's former glory, is now a museum. All three floors, even the tower are open to visitors. The sheriff's living quarters consisted of a kitchen, dining room, parlor, and two bedrooms. Being a sheriff, though a tough job, had a few perks. Here are some interior pictures--the kitchen, child's room, and master bedroom.

The upper two floors held free standing iron cages--the cells. They sat inside iron bars away from the windows where jailers could walk all the way around. Not only were the cells locked, but a large cell release bar opened the metal door that surrounded the cages. It held a large lock. Prisoners had a front row view of the drop from the hanging tower as cages were arranged around it.

Here's the stairs from inside the sheriff's quarters to the jail cells above. Also, a picture looking down the inner space of the hanging tower and the gate to the floor of the trap door. The lights in the center and other wiring have since been added.

It's important to know that the hanging tower was never actually used, though I can't imagine a better way to deter crime than to see a body dropping down from the floor above to dangle before you. But, shortly after the jail was built, a state law dictated that all hangings be public, so they were held outside. Up until 1923 individual counties carried out executions by hanging. In 1923, the state of Texas ordered all executions take place in Huntsville by means of the electric chair.

I hope you've enjoyed this little bit of Texas history. Thanks for stopping by and please leave me a comment.

Also, starting April 1, on my blog I'm giving away a choice of one of my ebooks to a lucky winner drawn from all the comments that month.

Linda LaRoque ~ Western Romance with a Twist in Time. A Law of Her Own, Desires of the Heart, My Heart Will Find Yours, 5-09, Flames on the Sky, 10-23-09, The Wild Rose Press; Forever Faithful, Investment of the Heart 5-09, When The Ocotillo Bloom 7-09, Champagne Books.
http://www.lindalaroque.com/ http://lindalaroqueauthor.blogspot.com/


Celia Yeary said...

Linda--wow. One of my favorite topics!! Really!In Fredricksburg, TX there is a jail similar to this. But it's a single building, made of red stone, about the size of my smallest bedroom. It has that walk-around area surrounding the metal cage you described.It's very creepy, and you can imagine the heat build-up in that thing in the summers. The prisoner might die from heat exposure before he was hanged. Visit the small museum in Huntsville and see the first electric chair--Old Smokey. There are also hundreds of artifacts collected from prisoners over the years. You can see how clever they were in making weapons. Loved this--Celia

Lauri said...

Wow, Linda, you visit the most interesting places! I want to come stay with you for a week...or more!

Great info!

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Linda, I want to see this! I'll make it to Texas eventually. We visited Old Town San Diego (CA) recently and the jail cell there is about four feet square. Yikes. They also had a solitary punishment-thing, kind of shaped like an outhouse, all made of metal. You'd fry inside that.

Your info and especially the pictures are fabulous!

Thanks for the great post!

Linda LaRoque said...

Hi Celia,
I need to go see Old Smokey. Can't imagine anything more horrible. You're so right about the heat. Though there were windows on four sides, I doubt on a hot, humid day they offered much breeze.

Linda LaRoque said...

Come on down, Lauri.

Linda LaRoque said...

I'd love to see Old Town San Diego. The size of an outhouse? I can't imagine. It is a wonder they lived.