Historic Durbin Town Jail
Since Durbin Days will be happening from July 13th through the afternoon of July 17, 2016, and since “Incarcerate a Friend” will be part of that festivity, it’s time to talk about our interview with Jason Bauserman –AMR’s Bartow Weatherman- about the Historic Durbin Jail. Jason, who also serves on the Pocahontas County Historic Landmarks Commission, was instrumental in restoring the old town jail using a $4000.00 grant from the Commission. Jason took me into the restored jailhouse where he talked about the history of several former Durbin jails since the town’s incorporation in 1906. Jason.
“Well this is the Durbin Town Jail here, and actually this is the second one that was built” said Jason. “The first one was just on up the road and just over the hill here. It was a wood frame jail, built pretty quick, because when they incorporated stuff had to happen fast. In fact, maybe for a half or a year or maybe a year, anybody that broke any laws here in town lived in, I think, the jailers house. They must have had a room or two that they probably could lock in that house and then feed them too, until they got the jail built.”
Jason went on to explain the fate of that first jail.
“It was a wood framed jail” said Jason. “But in 1938 there was a prisoner that was in there. It was a hot August night, and he had just probably gotten overheated and was in there probably for drinking. Somebody told me who it is who did it, in fact it was a relative of theirs. He kicked out the wood siding boards and crawled out of the jail. He went across the road and got kerosene from a house and went back and doused the boards and lit the whole jail on fire and walked away.”
Jason describes the next jailhouse that still stands and you can visit while at Durbin Days.
“This jailhouse, it’s built out of old cinderblocks, and of course there were a lot of cinders coming off the train(s), but these were made over at Elkins” Jason said. “Somebody hauled all of these blocks over from Elkins for $15.00. And this jail has a concrete floor –and actually I’m amazed to find out – back there in these two jail cells it’s got a concrete ceiling. This does happen to be an 8 x 8 jail cell and the one right next to it is the exact same size. Of course, no windows in it and these heavy quarter inch steel doors, they’re cut out with a forge. And if you look at these real close, you can see where people have tried to pry themselves out.”
Jason pointed out burn marks on the cell doors and the front door and said he was pretty sure these doors were the original doors that came out from the first wooden jail that had burned down. He also talks about some of the prisoners’ initials he found carved in the cell doors.
“What I found real interesting is a lot of the prisoners back here wrote their names” Jason said. “And I never saw this until I painted these doors. Here is a ‘T.R. Moates’ and including the date, 2/18/55. And right there you can see ‘Lambert’ written in real big letters. He didn’t put his first initials, we have a lot of Lamberts here.”
Jason talks about the type of criminals this jail held.
“Most people got in probably for drinking on the streets of Durbin or cussing or being disorderly mostly because of alcohol” Jason explained. “And if they couldn’t pay the fine, which often was just one dollar. And oftentimes they did take them out and have them work on the roads and they did actually buy a ball and chain.”
Jason says that his research indicates that the jail was used for local prisoners until at least 1955 then sat empty until the mid 1960’s when the state Police from Marlinton used it as a temporary holding cell, but probably not overnight. Later it was used as an office by Justice of the Peace Bob Gilmore into the early 1970s, which appears to be the last use of the jailhouse. So, while you’re in town for Durbin Days stop in and visit this small piece of local history.