by Luan Hearn Moore
The Sebastian County Jail, located South of the Square in Greenwood, was built in 1892. It is one of the oldest buildings in downtown and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings and Places.
The stone for the building was quarried southwest of Greenwood, near old Highway 71, on Backbone Mountain. Holes were drilled in the stone on the mountain and left over the winter. As water filled the holes and froze, the pressure of the ice split the stone into manageable size. The stone was then transported to the building site by horse and wagon by Isaac Kunkel, stone mason, his son, Henry Oliver Kunkel, and his son-in-law, George Williamson. The men shaped the stone into building blocks and erected a four cell two story jail. The exterior and interior stone walls are two feet thick. Each cell in the jail had one entry. Four heavy iron doors were installed, one to each cell, from the outside. Inside of these doors another iron grid door was installed with a small pass-through opening it. Originally there was no access from cell to cell inside the building. The four outside doors are operational and can be used today. The original key to the outside doors continues to work in the lock although it is no longer used. The key is on display in the jail.
The majority of the inmates were incarcerated for minor crimes such as rowdy behavior, drunkeness and theft. However several murderers were also housed in the jail. On occasion, when the mental hospital was full, the jail also housed mental patients.
Visitors to the jail building who look carefully at the floors and walls will find messages scratched into the stone and cement by the inmates.
At least two escapes from the jail are known to have happened. On escape was through the roof. Another time the prisoner made his escape and ran to his Jailer's home. He told the Jailer, "I just can't stand the snakes any more."
The building stood empty and idle for many years except when the city night watchman put some local resident in the jail overnight.
In 1966, the jail building began to be used as a museum and repository for Sebastian County history.