Your Opinion: Reasons to preserve county jail, sheriff’s house

Dear Editor:

I would like to add my voice to the growing chorus of voices opposing the razing of the old Cole County jail and sheriff’s house.

Those buildings were erected after decades of effort by Cole County residents and elected officials. As early as 1898, a Cole County grand jury bemoaned the condition of the existing jail, then located at 401 Monroe Street. For the first three decades of the 20th century, residents and officials struggled to find a way to build a new jail. That way finally arrived in the form of a Public Works Administration (PWA) grant during the mid-1930s, one of the many programs established during the Great Depression to put people back to work. Thus, the jail and the sheriff’s house stand as reminders of a time of adversity and our citizens’ ability to rise above great economic difficulty. The workers who built those structures earned from 35 cents to $1 per hour; those wages sustained those workers and their families during one of the darkest periods of American history.

The buildings stand, also, as a reminder of a far different time, when the sheriff and his family lived and worked among inmates. Walking into those buildings today, one can easily imagine what it must have been like for Sheriff Carl “Buck” Walz and his wife Sophie to raise their six children in such unique circumstances.

The old Cole County jail and sheriff’s house are important because they reflect a significant period of public architecture, but they should be preserved for a much more important reason. They remind us that what is important about buildings are the experiences that occurred within their walls.

Finally, the old Cole County jail and sheriff’s house should be preserved because they reflect the work of one of Central Missouri’s most important twentieth century builders, the Richard A. Schell Construction Company.

The Jefferson City Convention and Visitors’ Bureau urges local residents to “Feel the History.” That will be difficult to do if we continue to tear down buildings that remind us of our rich past.

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