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The 1892 Sebastian County Jail is one of the oldest buildings in Greenwood (Sebastian County), as well as one of the few buildings to survive the 1968 tornado that destroyed much of the city’s business district. In 1966, the South Sebastian County Historical Society repurposed the “Old Jail” as a repository for historical artifacts of Greenwood and surrounding communities. In 1994, the jail was added to the National Register of Historical Places. The jail now serves as the centerpiece of the Old Jail Museum Complex, which is dedicated to the history of southern Sebastian County.
The jail was constructed in 1892 by mason Isaac Kunkel, son Henry Oliver Kunkel, and son-in-law George Williamson, using stone quarried from Backbone Mountain southwest of Greenwood, the site of a Civil War battle. The exterior and interior walls of the two-story, four-cell jail are twenty-four inches thick. Visitors to the jail can see messages scratched into the walls by inmates. During the Great Depression, the building was converted into a community cannery. After that, it remained empty and unused for many years.
With inspiration from Dr. H. G. Alvarez and leadership of South Sebastian County Historical Society officers Hubert Curry, Means Wilkinson, Dr. James Burgess, Mary Dunn, and Gladys Walgreen, efforts began in 1963 to prepare Greenwood’s Old Jail to become a museum. Interior staircases were added, the cells were reconfigured to house exhibits, and a porch and steps were added. In 1965, volunteers Johnny Mayo, Steve Dodson, and Linda Capps catalogued donated items to prepare for the museum’s opening.
After renovation, the Old Jail Museum would house artifacts and rotating exhibits that depict nineteenth-century life in southern Sebastian County. Permanent exhibits feature the history of coal mining, the Hartford Music Company, and the life of Greenwood native governor John Sebastian Little. A document room contains materials of interest to researchers and genealogists. A collection of oral histories is also in production.
The Old Jail Museum is the centerpiece of the Old Jail Museum Complex, a collection of historic and memorial structures. These include the restored 1848 Vineyard Log Cabin, originally situated at the foot of Backbone Mountain near Highways 71 and 10. Oral history holds that the cabin was used as a first-aid station during the Civil War. It is equipped with period furnishings. Also on the property are the Ole Barn and the Redwine Pioneer Schoolhouse, donated by Greenwood resident Delma Joyce Woosley. The Ole Barn was moved in 2001 to the Old Jail Museum Complex from the W. D. Redwine Farm north of Greenwood. It contains implements, hand tools, harnesses, saddles, bridles, and a conveyance used by area farmers and craftsmen at the turn of the twentieth century. The Redwine Pioneer Schoolhouse is a replica of a typical southern Sebastian County turn-of-the-century one-room schoolhouse. The schoolhouse is furnished with period artifacts and authentic reproductions. Many of the items belonged to the family of Delma Joyce Woosley, whose grandparents, L. M. and Delma Redwine, were pioneer teachers.
Two memorials have been erected on the grounds. A bust of Governor John Sebastian Little is located beside the Old Jail. To the east is the Coal Miners’ Memorial. The memorial consists of a bronze statue of a coal miner, modeled on miner George “Buddy” Lewis, and granite walls engraved with 3,782 names of area coal miners. Coal mining was an active industry throughout southern Sebastian County from 1882 through the late 1960s.
The Old Jail Museum Complex is located southeast of the town square on Center Street. It is open Thursdays through Saturdays, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., from May through October.
For additional information:“Development of the Historic District.” The Key 39 (2006): 9–17.
“The Old Jail Museum.” The Key 11 (1976): 9.
Old Jail Museum Complex. http://oldjailmuseum.blogspot.com/ (accessed December 7, 2011).
Donna GoldsteinSouth Sebastian County Historical Society
Last Updated 12/7/2011
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