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Austin County Museum
Formerly Bellville Jail
Austin County

Recorded Texas Historic Landmark

36 S. Bell Street, Bellville, Texas

by John Troesser
Bellville Texas - Austin County Jail Museum
Austin County Museum, formerly Bellville Jail
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark

Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, September 2004
Bellville has a great jail, which now serves as the Austin County Museum and many other buildings. Maybe they aren't as grand as the jail, but they are charming and in some cases unique (The old Dr. Pepper bottling plant with its rock façade comes to mind).


Bellville Crime and Punishment: The first 35 years of it's existence Bellville had only two homicides and one of those was deemed justifiable. There were also two legal hangings and two lynchings, one of which was for the theft of 65 sheep. It's entirely possible it wasn't the actual theft that earned this man his hanging as much as it was his stupidity. The theft was embarrassing to Austin Countians.Where was he planning to hide 65 sheep? Even if the plates and registration were changed?

Before our present system of booking and fingerprinting evolved, the first step in securing a prisoner was to take him to the blacksmith to have him "ironed". This meant a customized set of shackles (monograms were extra). One unfortunate prisoner was in irons for 16 months before trial!
Another view of the former jail in Bellville
Photo courtesy Shannan Yarbrough, 2005

When the time came for the jail to be built - they built one with no windows or doors on the ground floor. Prisoners were inserted into this area by means of an outside staircase and a hole in the floor. Very clever, but it could get a little warm in the summer. 

These tidbits of Austin County history are taken from the book "Bellville; The Founders and Their Legacy" by Isabel Frizzell. Out of print, but available at the library. The Library with it's flowerbed of ornamental cabbage, is staffed by helpful librarians who are bucking the trend to get rid of everything except John Grisham, Danielle Steele and books on tape. In fact it's so user friendly we make it a point to do our research there.

One of the many interesting postcards on display in the library shows a petrified tree trunk brought into town and weighing in at nearly two tons. Don't feel superior to the crowd gathered around this oddity. Sure, you know all about petrified wood. But the early settlers of Austin County knew all they needed to know about petrified wood (it didn't burn and it dulled their axes). 

© John Troesser

Historical Marker:

Austin County Jail

Calling their old jail "unsafe, unfit, and inadequate," the Austin County Court contracted in 1896 with Pauly Jail Building Co. of St. Louis to erect this structure at cost of $19,970. Romanesque Revival style, with crenelated parapets, bartizans, and stone window arches harmonized with the 1886 courthouse, which later burned. The gallows, used only in 1901, have been removed; jailer's quarters have been enlarged; but original exterior is preserved.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1976
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