Old Jail Museum
Old Jail Museum built in 1887, houses the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce & Agriculture offices Open Tuesday – Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. with special Winter Hours for January and February being Thursday – Saturday from 10:30 AM – 3:30 PM. Architect Eugene T. Heiner designed the brick structure to hold 200 prisoners under riot conditions. Contractor Henry Kane and Snead & Company Iron Works contracted to build the jail of concrete and steel for $21,660.20.
Enter an entrance hall which was once the sheriff’s office. To the left were three rooms, kitchen and bath used as the family living quarters for the sheriff or jailer. All of the ceilings are made of corrugated steel and concrete. On the lower floor are display cases for articles taken from prisoners, information on the sheriffs, deputies and other law enforcement officials who served through the years.
At the end of the hall is the dungeon, where the only light light and air came from holes above the door. There is a jailer’s bedroom and the ‘women and lunatics’ cell. The second and third floors feature a large room known as the runaround which is two stories high and was not used for hardened criminals. The death cells are at the front of this room and feature doors of two-inch iron strips forged and fused through the use of heat, borax and hammer, since the jail was built before welding was invented. In each wing of the room are two-story metal cells, built as rooms within a room and featuring more of the riveted doors.
The last gallows were last used in 1921 and were torn down in the 1950s. They stood in the run-around next to the third-floor walkway. The present gallows are an exact reproduction. Large doors to the cell blocks feature small swing-out doors with bars, from which the jailer could observe the prisoners and inside the room are levers that opened and closed latches on the cell doors.
Note the small diagonally shaped coal stoves in the far corner of each cell. At the end of each wing is a recessed arch where a large wood stove was used. There were six legal hangings in Gonzales, the first in 1855 between the jail and the jailer’s house that were on Market Square. In 1878 it was estimated that 4,000 people “arrived as to a feast to witness the human suffering and shedding of blood” of Brown Bowen. Another hanging was in 1881.
After this jail was built, the first permanent gallows were built in it in 1891 and used again in 1897. Albert Howard’s hanging on March 18, 1921, was the last held in Gonzales County and this jail.
A legend persists that while Howard was in jail, he became obsessed with the clock on the courthouse, keeping strict attention to the number of hours he had to live. He swore his innocence would be shown by the clock, that none of the four faces would ever keep the same time again if he was hanged. Through the years the faces have rarely been consistent.
The museum, significant in and of itself, houses a large collection of objects, documents and photographs pertaining to Gonzales’ role in the shaping of Texas history. It is the heart of the new and first in the state, Texas History Museum District.
The museum building is made of Texas shell stone trimmed in Cordova cream limestone.
The museum park consists of the museum, a reflecting pool leading to a granite and bronze monument,”The Immortal 32″ at its entrance, and an attached amphitheater with a seating capacity of 500. The back wall of the amphitheater features a marble memorial.Hours for the Memorial Museum are Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. & 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. & Sunday 1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.