One of the things Georgetown, Texas is known for today is “Sun City Texas,” the large retirement community.
But for many in Georgetown between the hundred year period between 1889 and 1989, there was a place where the sun did not shine. That place, was the Williamson County Jail.
The jail was built to replace an older more insecure facility which was located right next to the courthouse. With construction finished in 1888, prisoners began inhabiting the new jail early the following year. Even today, one hundred-twenty years after it first housed prisoners, and twenty years since it closed, the building, although architecturally interesting, is a haunting place to look at from the outside. I cannot even begin to imagine the place on the inside. The old jail is historically noteworthy for a couple of reasons, beyond the fact that it is very old.
The last man hanged in Williamson County was escorted out of the jail just before his appointment with the gallows in 1906. Tom Young, a dirt poor cotton chopper, had beaten his niece to death during the previous year. In March 1906, the scales of justice weighed in, and Young was escorted out of town and hung in front of a large crowd.
Much later, in the years just before the jail closed, the facility confined the alleged serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas. Although sentenced to death for a Williamson County murder, his sentenced was reduced to life in prison by the governor, given the fact that the evidence was less than reliable, as Lucas had a habit of confessing to crimes he could not have possibly committed. But, he was, of course, guilty of many heinous crimes, and died in a Texas prison in 2001.
If a drive past the old jail in Georgetown at 3rd and Main doesn’t scare someone out of a life in crime, I don’t know what will. While today’s penal facilities are called “correctional facilities,” one hundred years ago in Georgetown and for long thereafter, it was more about punishment than correction.