By Larry Horton & Becky McCoy
According to J. Dickson Black’s History, the first jail was built sometime in the Spring of 1837 northeast of the square, about 60 yards NE of the corner. It was a small building made of double log walls. By August 1848, there was talk of the deteriorating condition of the jail and it was voted to be torn down and rebuilt specifically with two layers of timber flooring, double timber walls 10” thick, and three stories.
In January, 1888 a contract was let to build a new jail just north of the courthouse, which had just been built at the corner of what is now NW 2nd and Main. It was to be one story, 42 x 32 feet. It was constructed so that the cells were in the interior with a walkway all the way around so that no cell had access to the outside.
This jail was used for many years but began to deteriorate. A fire in February 1905 killed two inmates, however it was said that the building itself was not damaged. In October, 1910, the Benton County Court levied at 1 mil tax to support the construction of a new jail, the one that is currently located at 212 North Main Street.
Black noted that the court approved construction in January, 1911 and a March 1911 story in the Benton County Democrat said that the bids had been let to begin construction. Lon Pace, a local builder, was contracted to build the building and do all inside work except for steel work, at a cost of $11,200. Steward Iron Works of Cincinnati, OH was paid $3100 for steel work for the cells, doors and windows. The architects were Mathews and Clark of St. Louis and Rogers, AR. The building was said to have been completed late that year-but not soon enough to prevent a jail break from the old jail in February 1911 through means of the help of an outside man with a crowbar.
The jail at 212 North Main was in use until the late 1970’s, at which time a new jail was built behind the courthouse. It was later occupied by the Ferguson family, who had a long term lease of the site.
Currently the jail is home to the Bentonville History Museum office and growing collection. Appointments can be made to meet with Museum board members to donate collections, and share oral histories.
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