The Boonville Jail Project

Boonville was once a bustling pioneer town located in the center of Brazos County between the Brazos and Navasota Rivers. Although its lifespan was a mere 25 years, from 1841-1866, it formed the foundation of Brazos County. This area was traversed by Europeans in the late 1600s who built El Camino Real – the King’s Highway – through Texas along today’s northern border of the county. This area would BHS_Boonville_Jail_Marker_002eventually become known as Boonville and in 1841 became the county seat of Brazos County. When the Houston and Central Texas Railway located two miles west of Boonville in 1861, residents left for the newly formed community of “Bryan.” County offices and businesses moved from Boonville to Bryan, sealing the fate of the little town. 1

The town of Boonville saw many structures built to accommodate the needs of the citizens. One of the most notable and imposing structures was the county jail. It gained the reputation as being the “strongest jail in the Texas Republic,” and for good reason. The walls were thirty-two inches thick and of solid oak timber. The two rooms of the jail were placed one over the other; the lower room, known as the dungeon, was twelve feet square. A trap door thirty inches square in the middle of the upper room furnished the only possible means of entrance or exit from the room ten feet below. The roof and gable ends of this building (the attic) formed a room on the second floor, which was reached by an outside stairway from the ground. It was considered impossible for anyone to escape from this structure without help, especially from the lower room or dungeon.

Although it was considered a physical impossibility for anyone to escape from this structure unaided, there were several escapes. One was an accused murderer brought to the jail from another county. One night, about midnight, one of worst storms ever experienced in the county hit Boonville. When the sheriff took in the prisoner’s breakfast next morning, he found the doors wide open, and the locks to both doors shattered. Nothing more was heard of the prisoner until the first day of the next term of court when he suddenly appeared before the judge and pleaded for trial or bail crying, “Please, shoot me, hang me, but just don’t send me back to that jail! Those fleas are drivin’ me outta my mind!” The jail was also was also said to be infested with lice.

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