Brown County is home to the last remaining log jail in Indiana, and repairs have been made to make sure it continues to stand tall.
The one that stands now in the pioneer village in downtown Nashville is actually Brown County’s second log jail. It dates back to 1879.
Along with the surrounding “Brown County Courthouse Historic District,” it’s been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1983.
The first log jail was built in 1837 for $175 by William Snider. James Taggart helped with the build; he was elected Brown County sheriff in 1836.
With the intention of escape-proofing it, the only entrance was an outside stairway that led to the upstairs, Brown County historian Diana Biddle said.
“The sentenced men were deposited through a door in the upstairs floor by a rope ladder, which was then pulled up, sans prisoner,” she said. There was an upper “debtors” room and a lower “criminals” room, according to records kept at the historical society.
In a story from 1917, the claim was made that no one ever escaped without outside assistance.
In 1876, another layer of logs was added, making the walls 54 inches thick. But by 1879, that jail had deteriorated to the point that it needed to be replaced, Biddle said.
The second jail was built using much of the same construction. The walls were, again, three layers thick; however, iron doors were added to the lower level, and a wood-burning stove was added and used to heat both levels.
More than 130 years later, Snider’s fourth great-grandson, Bird Snider, became the contractor on the log jail’s major reconstruction project. It was led by the Brown County Historical Society, with support from Indiana Historic Landmarks, Peaceful Valley Heritage, and $25,000 from the county’s cumulative capital development fund.
A number of collapsing logs were replaced with historically accurate substitutes. Originally, only lower logs were to be replaced, but during renovations that began in 2015, Snider discovered logs throughout the exterior walls also were failing.
With the help of Ivan Deckard, Jim Schultz and Norbert Garvey, Snider added a new foundation to help correct the jail’s sideways pitch, with stone facing. A new brick wall was laid to connect Locust Lane with the courthouse parking lot. A damaged tree was also removed and the site’s drainage was corrected.
The county commissioners own the log jail and the property containing the Pioneer Village. “There is a long-standing agreement between the county and the historical society that gives the historical society the responsibility to manage, maintain and oversee the log jail along with the larger dogtrot log cabin,” said Biddle, who is also a county commissioner.
At this point, the log jail is in “fair condition,” she said.
“Following the most recent log replacements and repairs, they will allow the exterior logs to age naturally and acquire a similar patina to the existing logs. Some time in the next year, there will be a preservative applied to seal the logs,” she said.
Along with being the last remaining log jail in Indiana, this is also one of few remaining across the country, Biddle said.
“It is especially important for us to preserve this last remaining specimen of our past,” she said.