By CHERIL VERNON
Just in time for Halloween, the historic Anderson County Jail will be open for the “Haunted Little Jail Fundraising Tours” today through Saturday.
Tours will be open from 6 to 10 p.m. Admission will be $5 a person.
Before purchasing the building in April, Jeremy Janz leased the jail for six weeks last October and November to host “Haunted Little Town Walking Tours.”
The walking tour started at the Anderson County Courthouse focusing on the history of how Anderson County was established, and touching on the paranormal side of Palestine.
The tour included a trek to the City Cemetery where Palestine's founding fathers are buried, and for a special treat, the tour concluded with opening the doors to the Old Anderson County Jail after almost 20 years of being abandoned.
“We felt very fortunate to meet so many interesting people on the walking tours,” Janz said. “People living hours away drove to Palestine to see this local treasure and share our history.”
When the jail went up for auction, Janz became committed to opening and preserving this historic building.
“From my first tour of the jail I experienced what most do, visions of countless possibilities. Since then, with the help of wonderful volunteers and community support, we've been able to host 'Historic Haunted Little Town Walking Tours' and now a 'Haunted Little Jail Fundraiser' that will help raise funds to restore the building,” Janz said. “We're also launching a kick-starter project in the next couple weeks to help achieve this goal.”
Janz was literally handed some pretty big keys as the jail's new owner.
“After I was given the set of large skeleton keys that operate the jail's cell doors, I contacted Southern Steel, the lock manufacturer, to find out if I could get duplicates made,” Janz said. “For security purposes their distributors typically only sell keys to federal, state and county officials. So, it was kind of a humorous process proving I, a private citizen, am the jail's owner and needed extra keys because I was very concerned about losing something potentially irreplaceable. And, that I'm not someone devising a plan to help someone escape from jail.”
This past year, the interest in this jail has been stirred. An independent film crew from Canada used the jail to shoot an independent movie trailer, numerous photographers have used it as an eery setting for photos, and TV host Bob Mauldin chose to feature the jail on a full episode of “Expedition Texas” that aired a couple of weeks ago.
“Taking people on tours has been an excellent way to re-introduce the jail but, once all the entire building is cleaned-up and proper inspections are completed we hope to showcase a variety of events,” Janz said. “I always enjoy everyone's feedback and am inviting you to share what you would do with an old jail made of solid concrete and steel.”
According to historical information provided, the oldest structure known at the current jail site was a log cabin owned by a widow named Ann White whom took care of the widowed Dr. E.J. DeBard. The next home was owned by Jasper Starr, newspaper editor of “The Wonder.” Nearby was the Lonestar Saloon next door.
In the 1880s, a jail was built in the location with a clock tower donated by Palestine pioneer George Wright. In the 1930s, the current Art Deco jail was built.
The jail closed in 1988, but was used for another decade as a juvenile detention center and later for storage. The county sold the historic structure in 2012, with Janz purchasing the building in April of this year.
For more information about the jail tours, call 903-373-8158.