In general, people seldom want to go to jail, nor do they want to stay there.
But lodging is one of many possible future uses of the historic Andrew jail.
The Jackson County Historic Preservation Commission will learn more about how the building could be saved and used thanks to a grant by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
The department awarded $5,700 to the commission. The money will pay for a feasibility study and rehabilitation plan for the Andrew jail, which served Jackson County from 1870-96 and “is in a remarkable state of preservation,” according to the department.
Commission secretary Lee Karabin explained the purpose of the study.
“This study will examine possible uses of the building, and what work would need to be done and in what manner to put the building into use, meeting code requirements and all of the National Park Service requirements to maintain the historic integrity of the building so that it will remain a National Historic Property,” she said. “The rehabilitation plan will also give us cost estimates.”
The detailed study will cost about $10,000 and take about six months to complete, she said.
The city of Andrew owns the jail, which is located on Emmet Street. The city must pay for about $4,000 of the study.
“Once the study is complete, the Historic Preservation Commission will work with the city of Andrew and other interested people and organizations toward the next phase, which is making a decision on the final plan, followed by requests for proposals, receiving bids, and so on,” Karabin said. “Then we will be looking at more grants and fundraising.”
A committee was formed to develop a plan for the jail. The committee includes Karabin, Andrew City Councilman Gregg Sommers, Andrew residents Kathy Till and Mary Lou Hudrlik, and county Supervisor Larry McDevitt.
“We’ve been working on the plans for this project for a long time,” Karabin said.
Besides lodging, the building could be used as a museum, for haunted houses and for increasingly-popular ghost tours.
An architect surveyed the jail and completed a technical advisory report. That report “identified some of the repairs and improvements to put the building into a usable condition, without going into details about costs or any specific uses,” Karabin said.
The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and on Preservation Iowa’s Most Endangered Properties List for 2018.
Built in 1871 of local limestone, the building is a remnant of the years when Jackson County communities vied over which would be the county seat. It was used as a jail until 1896, then as a residence and museum.
The Historic Preservation Commission said the building itself is the only 1870s stone jail left in the state. The old jail is also unique because is one of few jails that had cells for females as well as males.
Located on the third floor, the women prisoners often left sketches on the old limestone walls. Many of them appear if the walls are wet.
The basement once served as the storm cellar for the courthouse for years. That courthouse was destroyed by a fire.
The jail, which most recently had been opened to Halloween tours, had been closed to the public because of safety concerns of the insurer.
The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs awarded a total of $96,367 to nine projects in eight counties through its certified local government (CLG) program for historic preservation, which encourages governmental partnerships, provides training and technical assistance, and supports preservation of historic resources at the local level.
Other grant recipients were historic preservation committees in Adams County, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Greenfield, Manning, Mason City and Newton.