On April 4th. 1851 an Illinois resident and carpenter, John H. Chrisman arrived at Fort Gates with his wife and four children.
Chrisman helped survey the City of Gatesville and the public square in May 1854 and he also built the first house in the city. In 1855 he was commissioned to construct a double-walled hewn log jail house for Coryell County. Most of the work was done alone by Chrisman and was completed in just four months at a cost of $I,085.13.
The jail was initially built on Lot 9 of Block 2 which was behind where the National Bank stands today. The jail was used at this location for 2I years.
Logs were hewed with broad axes to the proper size and hauled from R. Grant’s Leon River bottom land to the desired location by ox-drawn wagon.
The jail was a two-level structure with access to the basement jail cell through a trap door on the main floor. The guard spent his duty time on the upper floor. Blacksmith Henry Sasse was often paid for repairing the trap door, repairing locks and making foot cuffs.
Unrest and lawlessness plagued the entire South after the War Between the States. Cattle rustling became prevalent in the open range, and a feeder route to the Chisholm Trail crossing Coryell County increased the transient population. These situations made it difficult for law enforcement of officers to uphold the law. As many as seven sheriffs served in Coryell County during a troubled 10-vear period.
By 1870, a new and larger jail was built, and the old log jail was sold to the highest bidder and moved log-by-log to the Powell property on Osage Road, about two miles northeast of Gatesville. The old logs were carefully re-stacked, and the building used as a storeroom and a smokehouse, until 1989 when Miss Jessie Faunt Le Roy recognizing the historical value of such a structure, wanted to donate the first dollar for relocating the jail to Raby Park. She started a Buy a Log campaign to help pay for the move.
On July 25. I917 the old jail moved to Raby Park in downtown Gatesville. Blaine Allen and Emmett Dickie took care of the many repairs needed. Greater interest in Coryell County’s history led to the organization of a Coryell Comm Historical Society with Mrs. T.R. Meats in charge of the group.
By 1986, the J.R. Graham building on 7th Street housed historical items for special exhibits and the old log cabin was once again moved and located behind the museum building. The 133-year-old Coryell County Log Jail was dismantled and moved from Raby Park Saturday to a new location in the Coryell County Museum Courtyard.
Preparing for the relocation of the old jail, Dr. E.E. Lowrey, president of the Coryell County Museum Foundation said “We dug out the foundation and used cross-ties to bring it up to the ground level. There were about four or five logs that rotted out on the foundation of the original jail. Meeting Saturday for the task of taking the old jail apart, piece by piece, Dr. Lowrey said, “We worked about eight hours. We started at 8 a.m. and we delivered the last log right at 5 p.m.” Once the old logs were taken down from the jail in the park, each log was loaded on a flatbed trailer and hauled to the museum location. “We made six trips," he said. “I believe I counted 90 logs”.
In 1998 the old log jail was moved one more time, again by Dr. E.E. Lowrey. This time it was moved behind the Bigham R.K. Powell building on the corner of 8th and Main. The building had been donated to the Coryell Museum and Historical Center by businessman Wes Gilbreath.
A small-scale model outside the old log jail door gives an excellent view into the jail of the mid-1800’s. The jail is now enclosed in an air conditioned/heated area of the museum and is part of a collection of early farm tools and equipment