County’s first jail reduced to ashes in 1851-52

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.




(This is the second of two articles dealing with Hancock County’s first jail, erected in 1830 on the south side of what is now the court house property. The article is from the pages of the old Morning Republican in the late 1890’s and was written by Miss Florence Blackford, a Findlay newspaper writer for some years and daughter of Jason Blackford, a prominent Findlay attorney for many years.)


“Those were the days of genuine jollification on occasions of public prominence.” (Miss Blackford was describing here the 1830 scene in Findlay). “Those were the days when the excess of enthusiasm found its vent in firing muskets and anvils and the throwing of fireballs, a pastime that would make the modern mother fall into spasms. When the calendar heralded the approach of a momentous day, the men and boys who could find the wherewithal would buy a number of balls of candlewicking and a large amount of turpentine. The wicking was rolled into balls about the size of double fists and soaked for some time in turpentine.

“When the anticipated evening rolled around, three or four relays would be stationed at various points along the street, the balls lighted and thrown from one group to the next. As the lighted balls, sometimes in groups of dozens, approached a relay of those engaging in the sport, the quickest was sent on its way and if any fell to the ground a melee that would do credit to a football scrimmage would ensue, although no one was too presumptuous as to attempt to hug a ball in his arms.

“The public square was the place where these balls were frequently thrown and it was the favorite spot for the illumination which the throwing of the balls by the hundreds made the most picturesque. On such occasions, it was common for some mischievous young fellow to throw a blazing ball on the dried and curled shingles of the roof of the old jail, which would frequently catch afire and start quite a blaze. When this would happen and the blaze would threaten the destruction of the imposing edifice, some barefooted youth would climb up to the roof by sticking his fingers and toes in the cracks between the logs at the corners, and beat out the impending conflagration with his cap.

“This would be repeated several times an evening until the roof of the jail was so full of holes that it would hardly shed a hailstone.

“But finally the old jail met its fate. In the winter of 1851-52, two men were confined there for some trivial offense and were not as expert at getting out as they were at getting in, so it seemed as if they were destined to stay until the end of their terms. But one of the two, thinking he might create a division which would cause the opening of the door from the outside, set his straw tick and bedclothes on fire. The scheme worked better than was anticipated by the projector, and the combustibles burned with such rapidity that before the jailer could get the door open the men were nearly suffocated. The Tom Thumb and the Jenny Lind fire department of the village were not equal to the task of exterminating the flames, and the first public building of Hancock County was reduced to ashes.”

In her article, Miss Blackford did not continue to discuss at that time what was done to provide the county with jail facilities, with the old jail gone.

The records reveal that a second jail was provided on Broadway between the present jail and the library. This served as a jail for a couple decades, until the present jail was erected in 1879, at the northwest corner of West Main Cross Street and Broadway. The present building is thus 85 years old this year (1964), making it the oldest county structure in the community. The court house of today was built eight years later.


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