The first jail in Schuyler County was built on a lot set aside in 1827. The original structure was replaced in 1838 and the present structure was built in 1857 by Jeremiah Stumm for the sum of $6,445.
Jeremiah Stumm was born in Pennsylvania and left home at age 18 to learn the carpenters trade. In January, 1857 he came to Rushville and took the contract to build the new county jail. This contract was completed in August 1858, and while the county got a good jail, Mr. Stumm was a loser of $900 on his contract. He continued to work as a contractor and surveyor and when he became feeble from age went to live at the county farm where he resided until his death in May 1908.
This building served as a County Jail until 1902, and has been used as a Youth Center and a meeting place for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H Clubs at various times since. In 1968 a group of Historic Conscience people “saved” the jail from destruction by signing a lease with the City which requires a fee of $1.00 per year and continuous upkeep.
Additions have been made (Heritage Room 1 and 2 and Museum). All of this by private donation and hard work on the part of the pioneers of this project. You will notice as you tour the facilities that the original jail was built of hand quarried sandstone blocks from McKee Branch, north of Rushville. These blocks are approximately 24×20 inches and 2 to 5 foot long. Tools similar to those used will be found mounted on the right hand side of the entrance to the Jail proper. The lower cells were for the men and for those who were considered dangerous. A ring in the floor kept them confined. The upper floor was originally reached by a circular iron ladder and housed the women prisoners and the Sheriff’s family.
Many interesting stories have been told about the jail but two are most interesting. When Mr. Stumm drew up his plans, he presented it to the Board of Commissioners, who approved it. Keep in mind that these are all men. When the building was completed and the Jailer ready to move in, it was discovered that no provision had been made for a kitchen, so they had to build a wooden structure on the north about where the Heritage Room 1 now stands.
Another story told is that even though there had been several escapes the most famous was when two men were quartered in the southwest cell, one of them would play his Jews-harp while the other scraped the mortar from around a block. When this had been completed, they slid the block out and slipped through the opening and were far away by morning.
Immediately behind the building was a “stray pen” where cows, horses, chickens and other animals found wandering up and down Rushville streets were kept until claimed.
The burled walnut carved desk was built in 1882 and was discovered at the county house in terrible condition. When the Museum was opened, it was restored and put to use again. The lights in the new additions were from the old Post Office. The drapery material is a reproduction of the fabric used for drapes hung in General Phillip Schuyler’s home in New York. Curtains made from the original fabric were hung before his daughter’s wedding.
The wrought iron fence forming a gate to the southwest jail cell is a part of the fence from around the Court House when it stood in Central Park where the bandstand is now located.
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