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Tara S. Gree, Clerk of Court and Comptroller of Clay County, FL
Clerk of Court and Comptroller of Clay County, FL Clerk of Court and Comptroller of Clay County, FL
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Old County Jail & Archives Center

old jail full exxterior

The Old Clay County Jail was built in 1894 and used until 1972. This is the second oldest, still-standing jail in Florida, with St. Augustine’s Old Jail being the first/oldest.

Clay County Jail – 1894

The 1894 version of the Clay County Jail was 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 Pauly Jail Company built the jail, which is still in business today. The jail held men, women, juveniles, and the mentally ill.

Escapes and Executions

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.

Jailers Living Quarters

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.

Meals at the Jail

Believe it or not, the jail food many decades ago was pretty decent, with fresh vegetables, eggs, meat, and coffee prepared by the jailer’s wife most days. Despite proper meals, this jail was nowhere anyone wished to be.  There was a “Cool Hand Luke” (a movie) style sweat box out back for troublemakers. Prisons once used this archaic punishment technique 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. Sharing stories involving unexplained phenomena witnessed here by visitors is not uncommon.

The Old County Jail is open for tours. Come check it out for yourself!