A brick walk shoots straight northward from Bayfield’s Washington Avenue to a single-story stone building fronted by two iron latticework windows and a matching door opening outward. Just inside it, a second door made of wood opens inward to reveal a Spartan, dimly lit room.
Despite a solid, stalwart visage, the building obviously falls far short of the high-security mark set by its modern-day descendants. Nevertheless, this city jail once served its purpose admirably in the second quarter of the 20th century.
“It was more just for local hooligans who got into bar fights,” said Bayfield Heritage Association Executive Director Megan Boyle. “But it has withstood the ages.”
On the other hand, the 93-year-old landmark has not completely withstood the ravages of time. That’s why the association stepped in to raise funds to restore it and give visitors the lowdown on the local pokey.
Now, after a successful start to its campaign, a mere $500 stands between the group and its $30,000 fundraising goal.
About two years ago the association inked a five-year deal with Bayfield to lease the 25-square-foot jail constructed in 1926 by a local stonemason. The sturdy structure built of locally quarried fieldstone survived Bayfield’s historic flood of 1942, but it closed before the New Year.
The association officially began raising funds in spring 2018 and quickly made progress.
Last fall contractors replaced the roof and completed masonry work on the original fieldstone. The interior has been painted — giving the bars of the four cells a glossy, black sheen — and thoroughly washed.
Now all the association needs for a possible opening in the fall is to place educational signs offering insights into the life and times of a small-town jail from a different era.
Designed for simpler times, the interior holds only four cells lined up side-by-side on its far wall, and a toilet. A wood stove had provided heat.
Modern-day visitors to the jail will get a glimpse of what drunks, “scalawags,” vagrants or whiskey runners might have seen as they marched into the city cooler. The association is going to re-create the interior of one of the cells with a cot and other furnishings, and place a desk where the officer would have sat to keep an eye on his — probably sleeping — guests.
The association’s work won’t stop with jail renovations and exhibits. The group also has reached out to learn the stories of the officers who patrolled the city and manned the jail.
One such officer is Herman Sense Jr., who served as Bayfield’s chief of police in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. His family not only has shared stories about his police work, they’re donating artifacts including a baton and police badge.
To donate to the project visit bayfieldheritage.org/old-city-jail-restoration.html.