Jailhouse blues: Athens jail boarded up following consistent vandalism

By Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal

ATHENS – Famous Monroe County landmark, the Athens Jail, is in poor condition lately following years of vandalism.

Regardless of the repairs and time spent preserving the 168-year-old building, the persistent problem of vandals breaking windows and defacing the property has pushed the last resort decision of boarding up the jailhouse.

“I just hate to see the building fall apart. They don’t make them like that anymore,” said Larry Sykes, who has been called the “patron saint of the Athens Jail.”

Sykes is one of the community members who have stepped up to preserve the jailhouse.

The Athens Jail is the oldest public building in Monroe County and locals are worried about the damage that is being done to it. Home to famous ghost stories and legends, the jailhouse is becoming a forgotten gem in the area.

Bobby Hollingsworth, whose ancestors were some of Athens earliest settlers, said that it was sad to see a treasured past of Monroe County in shambles.

Also helping to keep the building standing is the Monroe County Historical Preservation Society. The organization brought about awareness of the landmark and placed the call to Sykes for help.

“He’s been a silent sentinel. He wanted to do something about it,” said Mary Anna Riggan of the Monroe County Historical Preservation Society.
Murrell Tubb, who lives adjacent to the jailhouse, said that it was a sad thing to not see it in better shape, but that Sykes was doing a great job.

Broken windows, kicked-in doors and pieces of brick removed from the interior top the list of examples of what vandals have done to the jail.
Sykes and Tubb have been the main volunteers doing the repairs. Sykes has also repaired the thin roof and constructed a support system to support the overhanging roof.

The select group of people all agree on one thing, the building is a symbol of the Athens community. When people think of Athens, they think of the jailhouse. Sykes believes the building belongs to the people of Athens and Monroe County.

“To those of us that grew up here, it’s a landmark. I enjoy watching people take pictures of it,” Tubb said.

Most believe that if the building isn’t given drastic attention, the building will succumb to the wrath of time.

“It will just decay and rot away. It will be lost,” Riggan said.
“Age will eventually take its toll,” Tubb said.

Those responsible for the jailhouse’s preservation say a new generation of people are needed to help carry on the legacy of one Mississippi’s treasured items.

“We need to pass on the interest to the younger generation,” said Jerry Harlow of the Monroe County Historical Preservation Society.

The jail is like any other legend, it need to be passed down from one generation to another and be adapted to the times.