CATEGORY: Monroe County
FACELIFT TO BEGIN AT 151-YEAR-OLD ATHENS JAIL IN MONROE COUNTY
By Eileen Bailey
ABERDEEN – A year after $100,000 was awarded for its face lift, renovation of the 151-year-old Athens Jail in Monroe County is about to begin.
Jerry Harlow, president of the Monroe County Historical Society, said her organization was notified in December that the renovation work had been awarded to Dillon Construction of Carriere. She said work is expected to begin later this month to replace floors and a porch, reroof the building, and redo the walls and windows.
The jail, which was constructed in 1845, is owned by the historical society, which may use the jail as a community center or museum. Funding for the renovation was awarded to the society by the state Legislature through the Historic Preservation Bill.
The architectural drawings for the renovations were provided by Samuel H. Kaye of Columbus.
The jail was the second in that community. The first jail, built in the 1830s, burned in the late 1840s. The existing jail was constructed in 1845 by Joshua Toomer and served as the county’s jail until Aberdeen was made the county seat in 1849.
It had been used as a residence and a polling place until a bad roof forced closure of the building in 1992. The floors in one room of the 3,000-square-foot building, located off Old Columbus Road, have rotted because of a leak in the metal roof.
The jail has 32-inch brick-and-mortar walls with 12-inch thick square beams separating the first floor and second floor, where prisoners were housed. According to Emory Morgan, vice president of the Monroe County Historical Society, even in the hottest part of summer, the jail remained cool because of the thick walls and floors.
One of the most famous prisoners of the first Athens Jail was Chickasaw leader Tishomingo, one of the highest ranking leaders of the Chickasaw Nation. Tishomingo was arrested and convicted of exercising his duties as an Indian chief in violation of Mississippi law. He served time in the Athens Jail awaiting trial. The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling.
Tishomingo was forced out of Northeast Mississippi and made to Walk the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. En route, Tishomingo died at the age of 103, Morgan said.
In 1830 Athens was made the county seat of Monroe County, which was located mainly on the east side of the Tennessee-Tombigbee River. Prior to that, what is now Monroe and Lowndes counties were combined and Hamilton served as the county seat. When it was divided, Athens was made the county seat for Monroe County and Columbus was made the county seat for Lowndes County.