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HISTORY IN RUINS

December 16, 2012

A cell in the former Orleans County Jail, behind the courthouse. Photo: Ed Barber

NEWPORT– In 1995, the Orleans County Sheriff's Department closed the jail situated behind the county courthouse in Newport and moved next door to the Daley House during a transition period before moving to their current Derby Road location.
Built in 1903, the mail order jail (Literally – the cells were built by Pauly Jail Company of St. Louis, Missouri, and shipped by train to Newport.) was created to eventually hold 45 prisoners. But the jail house and administrative offices have sat idle for 17 years and are starting to show signs of neglect.
The Daley House, while architecturally pleasing with its Victorian facade, has serious structural problems, according to Sheriff Kirk Martin, including a sinkhole that is slowly undermining a section of foundation wall.
The jail's long history creates a dilemma. Do the taxpayers spend upward of a half-million dollars to bring the building up to grade (meeting state and federal regulations), let the building continue to decline, or find another use for the prime location?
The building is on the national historic registrar as a result of former sheriff Jim Murphy securing a state grant in the late 1980s to refurbish the facility with the condition that it be registered. To change or modify the building for any other use will require legislative approval as a condition of having used state funds.
Side Judges Ben Batcheldor and Robert Goodby, who draft the Orleans County budget for the sheriff's department and county courthouse, are currently focusing on replacing the slate roof on the courthouse, which will cost an estimated $125,000 (according to a quote received ten years earlier), which is a higher priority. In the current fiscal year, $40,000 has been appropriated to replace the roof and the budget proposal for the next year is to add $75,000 more to fund the replacement.
With the focus on maintaining the court house building, the former jail house and Daley House are beginning to deteriorate. While on a tour of the facility, Sheriff Kirk Martin stated, “If we bring the building up to code, we still have issues. Parking is a problem, we need a ramp for accessibility and there is no space. To make the second floor accessible, the building needs a lift.”
Currently, the former jail is a health hazard. Sheriff Martin and Deputy Sheriff Phil Brooks said there can be up to a foot of water in the basement, mold is growing on the walls, and the attic is a one way death trap for birds. They can find their way in but not out, and die there. Despite these issues, the jail house has a long history, which includes holding the man responsible for killing a Newport City police officer in the line of duty generations ago, and later holding German soldiers during World War II. Jay Stanwood, a security officer who works at the courthouse, and Derby Resident Ercil Davis, who served in Burma during World War II, recalled that during the second world war, German U-boats (submarines) were sighted along the east coast and “spotters” were used to locate them. When they were discovered, the U-boats were fired on until they sank.
“People were scared back then,” said Davis. “The military kept it a secret.”
Stanwood said he recalls former jailer Bruce Warner and others who said the jail was used to house German soldiers who were picked up in Maine after coming ashore. They were usually seeking supplies, but suspicious locals would turn them in to the authorities.
While the future of the jail and administrative offices are on hold, Judge Goodby said the county could raze the Daley House and converting the space into badly needed parking. “We did have an estimate of $5000 to take the building down. Right now it's a home for wayward cats; turning it into a parking lot is an option.”
The immediate focus is on replacing the court house roof; the destiny of the old jail house is uncertain.

 

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