The Old Clay County Jail was built in 1894 and used until 1972. This is the second oldest, still standing jail in the state of Florida, with St. Augustine’s Old Jail being the first/oldest.
The 1894 version of the Clay County Jail is constructed of red brick but, in 1963, was painted white. However, the red brick showed through the white paint. making the jail appear pink. Sherriff Jennings Murrhee had it repainted several times over. Constructed of one-foot-thick brick walls, there are sixteen (16) jail cells in various sizes with a Maximum Security wing upstairs. The jail was built by the Pauly Jail Company which is still in business today. The jail held men, women, juveniles and the mentally ill.
There have been at least two “escapes” from the Old Clay County Jail. One involved Billy Joe Krebb who made a key out of a spoon in 1964. He let himself and the other prisoners out of their cells. However, the make-shift key didn’t work for the main front door of the jail, so the would-be escapees were stuck—and, of course, put back in their cells. Not much of an escape plan. There were seven (7) executions on site between 1894 and 1916. All were conducted on a scaffold by hanging. The giant oak trees on the lawn were saplings then, not used for executions.
The jailers and their families lived in the building’s section that is now the Clay County Historical Archives. Several children were born here including Jerri Knight Williams, the first female mayor of Green Cove Springs. Her father was Will Knight, Chief Deputy for Sheriff John P. Hall. The Hinson brothers grew up in the jail as well. They became state death row prison guards. The Archives Reading Room was once the booking/dispatch room and the Archives Specialist’s office was the jailer’s bedroom.
Believe it or not, the jail food many decades ago was pretty decent, with fresh vegetables, eggs, meat and coffee prepared most days by the jailer’s wife. Despite decent meals, this jail was nowhere anyone wished to be. There was a “Cool Hand Luke” (a movie) style sweat box out back for troublemakers. This archaic punishment technique was once used by prisons as a method of solitary confinement. No air conditioning in those days and little ventilation in the South’s sweltering summer months, combined with disease and the cries of the insane and desperate, made conditions hard to tolerate for most inmates. No wonder this old jail is reportedly haunted. Ghost Hunters filmed an episode here. The sharing of stories involving unexplained phenomena witnessed here by visitors is not uncommon.