Old Molino Jail: There’s A Lesson In There Somewhere (With Photo Galleries)
November 16, 2009
Molino was once a bustling little town complete with a mayor, a car dealership, a dentist, a bank, three doctors, a canning factory, a couple of mills, a railroad station — and criminals, mostly men with a little too much booze in them following a good payday.
The time was 1913, and Molino was incorporated as a town. A town hall and jail were constructed. But less than two dozen years later, a devastating fire and the Great Depression put an end to Molino’s roaring times. The town was dissolved in April, 1933, and the town hall and jail were given to Escambia County. Escambia County was charged by the Florida Legislature to maintain the fair grounds as a public park and the jail and city hall were to be maintained by the county “for use of peace officers of the said county”.
The town hall is long since gone; it was believed to have stood in front of the jail. But the jail still stands with one iron cell inside a small brick building. For years, it was hidden away yards from Brickyard Road, near Molino Road. Schoolchildren had an opportunity to visit the jail about 10 or 15 years ago. Since that time, it was almost forgotten behind thick brush.
Almost forgotten, but not by Lil King, Tom Helms and other members of the Molino Historical Society. King spent hours in Tallahassee looking for evidence that the jail belonged to Escambia County. It was a dollars and cents move. The historical society did not have the funds to restore the jail, but Escambia County would.
The ownership revelation allowed the county to use county crews and prisoners from the Escambia County Road prison to clean the property. When NorthEscambia.com first visited the jail in February, 2008, reaching it was a trip down a little path through very thick brush. The kind of brush that only a machete and manpower would allow a human to pass. The trip was a near crawl. The photographer that was there from the city was nervously uncomfortable.
Over the course of that February day, road prison crews chomped away at the woods and the vines. clearing the lot for the first time in at least over a decade. The jail, once held prisoner by the growth of time, was once again free.
The small brick building was in remarkably good shape after all these years. The tongue and groove wood ceiling looked virtually undamaged. The roof needed some minor repair; and there was some water damage to wood around the bar-covered windows. The front door was missing.
There is just a single room in the old jail. It contains a single cell in the room, with a small area to walk around three sides of the cell. The door of old cell still swings freely, and does not even squeak. There is no obvious sign that the building was ever heated in winter and no bathroom. A February night in the Molino jail would bring cruel and unusual to mind.
The faint outline of the 1927 date written in the concrete doorway (pictured left) at the time of the repair is still visible today. The jail was repaired after an explosion took off the door, possibly in an escape attempt, King said.
The road prison inmates dubbed the old jail as their “Camp One”, a play on words because the road department’s north end facility in Bratt is called Camp Five.
The inmate cleanup and restoration work at the jail were supervised by Jeff Bohannon, superintendent of the Escambia Road Prison. He said he was proud to be able to help clean up the lot for the historical society. And the prisoners on the work crew were equally proud to take part.
“You are contributing to a part of history,” Bohannon told the prisoners as they prepared for a lunch break during one cleanup effort. “I know you get out and do this kind of cleanup thing everyday, but this is special. When you get out, you can come back where with your kids or grandkids and show them what you helped do.”
Several prisoners responded with a “thank you, sir”.
Inmates started their restoration with the front door — after all, a jail just isn’t a jail without a door. “It was built by the prisoners,” King said in March of 2008. “They are quite accomplished young men and some are already experienced carpenters and masons. I was happy to see the brick over the door put in; it gives a ‘finished’ look.”
For inmate Troy Cutts, 37, the Molino jail project has been a release from the road prison. Cutts was a carpenter before landing himself in the road prison. Part of his work on the jail included staining the new wood to look old. When gets out of jail, he wants to show his daughter the work he did on the old Molino jail.
There’s a good life lesson in there somewhere.
For photos of the jail restoration (courtesy Tom Helms) and a current day look at the jail, click here. Pitctured top: The single iron cell inside the 1913 Molino Jail. Pictured top inset: The faint outline of “1927″ in a repaired area of the door. Pictured bottom inset: The new sign at the old jail. Pictured below: The restored Molino Jail. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.