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Saga of the Old Jail

Preservation Alliance had worked since the 1980s to emphasize the significance of this building to the architectural and cultural history of Owensboro-Daviess County. Several county government administrations were "onboard" with wanting to preserve the 1886 building. The "last public hanging in the United States" took place nearby in 1930.

PA contributed to a study to determine the building's condition and possible uses to which it could have been adapted.

The original 1886 portion of the Old Jail was built in the Second Empire style of architecture. Beginning in the 1950s, several undistinguished additions were made to the original building.

The Kentucky Heritage Council (State Historic Preservation Office) had found that the Old Jail met established criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, although it had not been listed formally.


On April 18, 2002, Daviess County Fiscal Court opended only three sealed bids for the purchase of the Old Daviess County Jail. Bids were made under two options, one requiring preservation of the historic 1886 portion of the complex under a restrictive covenant, the other option with no stipulations of any kind – meaning the Old Jail could be demolished, if the purchaser desired.

John Bays, owner of the Executive Inn, bid $75,000 with no preservation required. Harrold Barrentine of Keller, Texas, bid $5,000 with preservation required and $30,000 without.

On May 15, 2003, more than a year after seeking bids, Daviess Fiscal Court voted 3-1 to accept John Bays' $75,000 bid with no stipulations. Fiscal Court previously had stated its interest in preserving the historic front of the building. Ideas mentioned were to incorporate it into expanded exhibition facilities at the Executive Inn or to make it the focus of a city riverfront plan to add new street-front commercial space adjoining the Old Jail.

At the May 15, 2003, Fiscal Court meeting, PA presented a list of ten reasons for Daviess County Fiscal Court to stipulate preservation of historic portions of the Old Jail:

1. The Old Jail is a very important piece of the architectural and cultural history of Downtown Owensboro.

2. The Second Empire architecture of the 1886 structure is unique in the downtown area.

3. In 1977, the Kentucky Heritage Council found that the Old Jail meets established criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

4. The Downtown Design Guidelines adopted by the City of Owensboro state that: “Renovation work on these [National Register eligible] buildings should preserve all important elements. In addition… the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation should be used.

5. Daviess County Fiscal Court has adopted an objective in its Comprehensive Plan to “preserve historic buildings….”

6. The General Land Use Criteria of the community’s Comprehensive Plan state: “Historical buildings should be assessed for their architectural or other historical significance, and when found significant, should be maintained and reused through sensitive adaptation.”

7. In public forums held during preparation of the Riverfront Master Plan, citizens repeatedly called for preservation of the Old Jail.

8. In keeping with community sentiment for preservation of the Old Jail, riverfront planners incorporated it as a featured focal point of the urban design plan.

9. A private owner would be eligible for federal investment tax credits based on the costs for renovating a National Register eligible structure.

10. Having current possession of the property, Fiscal Court has a prime opportunity to implement the above objectives by deeding the Old Jail with a covenant that stipulates the historic portions be appropriately preserved.

On June 12, 2003, the Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission considered the county's proposal to dispose of the Old Jail property. The OMPC "found no conflict with the Comprehensive Plan with the recommendation that the deed stipulate the preservation of the historic portion of the building."

On July 1, 2003, the City of Owensboro Community Development office issued a demolition permit for the Old Jail.

As of July 9, 2003, demolition was underway.
All of the above information is from the Preservation Alliance of Owensboro-Daviess County Inc's website.


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