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That old jail: the possibilities are limitless

The old jail on North Capitol Avenue in Corydon will soon be vacant seven years. Harrison County’s prisoners, wardens, jailers, dispatchers, the sheriff, his administrative staff and officers moved into the new digs on Gardner Lane west of town in August 1996, and no one has taken up residence in the old jail since. It’s been used by 4-H as a haunted house each year since then. On Halloween.
From the outside, it’s easy to see that the red brick, two-story building needs a facelift. Actually, it needs a complete makeover. That means lots of things, including: new roof, plumbing, wiring, heating and air systems, public restrooms, and accessible entry for the handicapped.
It’s likely to cost more than $1 million to make the building useable. Regardless, some repairs are needed immediately, to keep it from tumbling down until it’s sold to the highest bidder or renovated for use by the county. Obviously, it’s time to do something, lest we soon become only one of 92 counties in Indiana with an empty, crumbling jail.
Here are a few possibilities to consider:
1) Transform the building into an archive: Harrison County, the seat of Indiana government, desperately needs to store irreplaceable records. (“Autographs” include that of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States and the man for whom Harrison County is named.) When historians speak of the records here, they use words like “priceless,” “irreplaceable” and “to kill for.” The jail building could be converted into an archive, where records can be secured correctly and copies retrieved for the public. Two hundred or 300 years from now, people would say, “What foresight. What planning. Hail to our ancestors!”
2) Arrange a national auction of the priceless documents – who knows how much Sotheby’s could raise? Let the wealthy send some of their money back to the taxpayers by choice. It could be a handsome sum. This wouldn’t solve the problem of what to do with the old jail, but it would eliminate one possibility. As people counted the money they saved each year on property taxes, they’d say: “What planning. What foresight. Hail to the chiefs.”
3) Parking is often at a premium, even for regular day workers in the downtown. It seems no one wants to park in the municipal lot, south of Poplar Street by Little Indian Creek, and walk a few blocks toward the square; the municipal lot off East Chestnut Street is usually full and so are many of the street spaces. It seems counter-productive to lure tourists to an area they can only drive through. It’s now sort of a “look-but-don’t-stop-and-shop” mentality. If Corydon is to ever be really successful at increasing the number of tourists, we should tear down the jail and build a three-story, county-owned parking lot there. Later, when parking is at a premium, people would say, “What foresight. What planning. Hail to our chiefs!”
4) Restaurant. Sell it to an entrepreneur who sees profits in the uniqueness of the building. A lock-up theme, complete with the wait staff in black and white stripes, “cells” by reservation only, and menu items such as triple decker chocolate cake with file and banana “splits.” Bread and water would, of course, be served as soon as guests were seated. No one could leave until they had met “bail” at the jail. A really imaginative person with loads to invest could take it a step further and turn it into a … bed and breakfast! Imagine the clamour: Visitors could spend a whole night in jail. And the people would say, “What foresight. What food. What fun. Hail to the chefs!”
5) Convention hall. Obviously, the jail isn’t large enough for this purpose now, but it could be expanded up and out (to the rear) and even over, if Bank One ever decides to sell its space next door. Most everyone knows that to get a really nice crowd to stay a night or two and spend the big bucks, it takes a convention center or a big music hall (think Corydon Jamboree) as a drawing card. Harrison County’s Convention and Tourism Bureau hopes to invest in one someday. Why not sooner than later? The people would say, “What a town. Hail to the touristers!”
6) Do nothing, as usual. Eventually, we will become known as only one of 92 counties in Indiana with an empty, dilapidated jail. And the dogs will take over. Then, some people will rise and say, “We really do have an animal shelter. At last! At last!”
Surely someone can come up with a better answer.