Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Hanging Tower

My husband, and I drove to nearby Cameron, Texas in Milam County to tour the Milam County Jail. Built in 1895, it has a hanging tower equipped with a trap door. I'd heard of this place and thought, oh boy, fodder for a good story.   

The jail was built in the Romanesque Revival style with St. Louis pressed brick, trimmed with stone. The walls are ended with crenellations--ancient military features communicating strength. As was typical during this time period in the state, the ground floor housed the sheriff and his family. An iron door separates the small office from the living quarters.

In 1975, a new jail was built and the old building, still in its former glory, is now a museum. All three floors, even the tower are open to visitors. The sheriff's living quarters consisted of a kitchen, dining room, parlor, and two bedrooms. Being a sheriff, though a tough job, had a few perks. Here are some interior pictures--the kitchen and parlor. And they had a cook, the same one who cooked for the prisoners.

The upper two floors held free standing iron cages--the cells. They sat inside iron bars away from the windows where jailers could walk all the way around. Not only were the cells locked, but a large cell release bar opened the metal door that surrounded the cages. It held a large lock. Prisoners had a front row view of the drop from the hanging tower as cages were arranged around it.

Here's the stairs from inside the sheriff's quarters to the jail cells above. Also, a picture looking down the inner space of the hanging tower and the gate to the floor of the trap door. The lights in the center and other wiring have since been added.

It's important to know that the hanging tower was never actually used, though I can't imagine a better way to deter crime than to see a body dropping down from the floor above to dangle before you. But, shortly after the jail was built, a state law dictated that all hangings be public, so they were held outside. Up until 1923 individual counties carried out executions by hanging. In 1923, the state of Texas ordered all executions take place in Huntsville by means of the electric chair.

I hope you've enjoyed this little bit of Texas history. Thanks for stopping by and please leave me a comment.

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  1. I did not know of this prison. What a unique design for a jail and living quarters. The only old prison I'm familiar with is the Huntsville prison--interesting little museum there, too.
    The photos are great--thanks!

    1. This isn't a prison, it's just a jail. I've been told Granbury has a similar one. I had a lot more pictures, but could't find them all. To me the most interesting part was the cells being in the center and the jailers being able to walk around them. Plus the prisoners couldn't see out the windows. I need to tour Huntsville one of these days

  2. This is the weirdest prison I ever heard of. I never imagined a prison with a hanging tower that held the purpose of intimidating the prisoners. Crazy and interesting, Linda. You got some great shots, too. Did you know about all these things before you visited the jail?

    1. I'm not sure it was designed to intimidate the prisoners. That was just my conclusion. No, I didn't know much at all before visiting. I wish I'd been able to find all of the pictures and include them.


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