Wabash Sheriff’s House & Jail Wins Reprieve

Last month, Indiana Landmarks became proud owner of the Wabash Sheriff’s House & Jail, a historic structure previously marked for demolition and included on our 10 Most Endangered list in 2014. In many ways, the history of the Wabash Sheriff’s House & Jail is the story of Wabash itself.

Wabash Sherrif's House Jail

Out of the Ashes

After a major fire destroyed most of Wabash’s downtown commercial district in the 1870s, Wabash experienced a major building boom. Soon the downtown core brimmed with buildings in trendy architectural styles – Italianate, Second Empire, and Romanesque structures built in fireproof brick.

In 1880, Wabash officials commissioned Fort Wayne architect B.V. Enos to design a new city hall, county courthouse, and sheriff’s house. Enos’s designs for the trio pulled out all the stops to create ornate Victorian facades intended to reflect the community’s prosperity.

A sheriff today would likely balk at living in his jail, but the requirement was common in the Midwest through the early 1900s, when sheriff’s homes combined with jails were the rule, not the exception. The structures generally merged a high-style house with a no-frills jail. The sheriff supervised the inmates — and his family helped care for them. Typical of the day, the structure married a handsome brick residential building with a utilitarian stone cellblock.

As the decades rolled by, many of the handsome old downtown buildings lost their luster, deemed out of sync with modern times. The old sheriff’s house was no exception. In the 1930s, the city tried to “modernize” the building by adding a clunky porch to the house’s elegant façade. A century after its construction, the limestone-block jail had become hopelessly antiquated. The city closed the jail in 1979, and the local parole office moved into the sheriff’s house.

Conditions worsened as utility systems aged and the roof developed chronic leaks. In 2004, the city disconnected all utilities and began using the property to store maintenance equipment and obsolete office furniture. The building’s final ignominy came in 2014, when Wabash County Commissioners ordered its demolition.

Wabash Sheriffs House Jail

(Photo: Lee Lewellen)

When Indiana Landmarks listed it among the 10 Most Endangered, we paid for temporary roof repairs. After Indiana Landmarks and the Wabash County Commissioners spent a year searching without success for a new owner for the structure, the commissioners once again considered demolition. In March, the commission instead agreed to give the building to Indiana Landmarks with the $75,000 it would have spent on demolition.

We’ll match the $75,000 and this summer put a new roof on the building, restore the masonry, overhangs and windows, paint trim, and install a handicap ramp. We’ll recreate the long-lost porch, likely the most significant visual improvement. Once the repairs are finished, we’ll begin looking for buyer who can complete the landmark’s revival.

With a revitalized downtown boasting restored storefronts and thriving business, Wabash has come full circle – a revival that will be on full display April 25-28 when it hosts this year’s state preservation conference.

For more information about the Wabash Sheriff’s House & Jail, contact Paul Hayden, Director of Indiana Landmarks’ Northeast Field Office in Wabash, or call 260-563-7094.

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