Sensing a likely tourism draw, Macoupin County wants to reopen its circa-1870 county jail near downtown Carlinville, Illinois.
However, the interior of the fortress-like structure, often called the Macoupin County Cannonball Jail, remains covered with toxic lead paint. About $13,000 has been raised for lead-paint removal in the jail in the past 18 months. Another $18,000 is needed to get the job done.
Here’s a recent photo from the interior of the jail. The flaking lead paint remains a visible problem.
Local residents came up with a fundraising idea. The Macoupin County Enquirer-Democrat has the details:
Shop Local First will be having a promotion in August in which special edition chairs will be sold and proceeds will go towards the jail. The chairs are hand-painted in the theme of the old jail. They are tax deductible and cost $800 each. Checks can be made to the Macoupin County Community Foundation, P.O. Box 45, Carlinville, IL 62626.
Harry Starr, Macoupin County’s chairman of the building and grounds committee, told the newspaper once the jail is reopened, it will be used as a place to sell souvenirs and distribute tourism literature. Long-term plans include repairing the old jail’s roof. Starr wants to reopen the jail sometime in 2017.
Above is one of the chairs. Here are more details about the custom-made metal chairs:
Each chair will be hand painted after you consult with our chair artist, Ruthie Kahl, as to the name, seal, or business logo you would like added to the chair. It will be placed above the Route 66 sign on the seat of the chair or another location if space is adequate. Each chair will be dated/numbered and signed by the artist. The jail-like arms of the chair are made of real steel and welded to each chair. They are very sturdy and will last for years to come. A big thank you to Aladdin Steel, Inc. and Gillespie High School welding class students for their generous donation and labor of love.
Buying the chair also will include a piece of stone from the steps of the historic Macoupin County Courthouse when they recently were renovated.
Completed in 1869, just a few years after the end of the Civil War, Meyers incorporated a unique design feature that would make escape from the new jail almost impossible; leftover cannonballs were placed in the walls between the layers of stone. The cell block’s ceiling walls, and floors are constructed of one-inch iron plates with 20 inches of solid stone above and below. This made escape by removing sections of the stone wall a virtual impossibility. The jail was originally designed to hold 17 prisoners but at times saw twice that many, and lacked any of the amenities found in modern facilities. The jail was in operation as recently as 1988, and inmates lived and slept in the original cellblock constructed 119 years earlier.
The historic structure was finally retired when the new county jail was built and dedicated in 1988.
The upper floor of the jail served as a residence for the jailer or the sheriff.
The jail sits on a 1926-30 alignment of Route 66, just east of the downtown square.
(Modern-day image of Macoupin County’s old jail by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr; other images from Macoupin County Cannonball Jail Facebook page; image of the jail-themed chair courtesy of Sherry Brianza)