Last week I inadvertently stopped in the middle of the story about the burning of the second jail so I am printing it in its entirety this week. We have no known photos of this jail but one can get a picture in the mind from this article. I conclude this column with excerpts from the Mountain Echo about the prisoners in the jail when the fire started.
The Mountain Echo
May 4, 1883, Page 3
OUR COUNTY JAIL IN ASHES
The Prisoners Secured, and the Jailer Without a Home
The Fire the Work of the Inmates
Just at 12 o'clock last Tuesday night, the entire population of our town were almost startled out of their senses by the fire alarm bells ringing and cry of "Fire!" resounding from one end of our streets to the other, and were further more startled on arising in a light almost equal, if not surpassing in brilliancy the noonday sun, and seeing the entire jail building enveloped in one solid sheet of flames, rolling many feet in the air, carrying in its train great destruction of property and desolation to the occupants. Just at midnight, Jailer J. R. Hardin was awakened by the prisoners in the cell screaming "Fire!" when he arose and was informed that the fire was on the outside. Being informed of this, Mr. Hardin went to the rear of the cell and discovered that the fire had broken out at a place where former inmates had made a hole and effected an escape, but which had been securely plugged and iron bars securely fastened on the outside to more securely hold the plug, which, in fact, made it much more difficult to effect an escape at than any other place. In plugging the hole the plug did not exactly fit in, and an opening was left nearly or quite large enough for a man to thrust his hand through. It was just at the side of this hole that the fire first made its appearance.
Mr. Hardin says that he had no idea that the jail would burn down when he first discovered the fire and attempted to put it out, but it had gained more of a headway than he first supposed, and before he could extinguish the fire it had run up between the weatherboarding and the cell breaking out higher up and into the guard-room above. Mr. and Mrs. Hardin immediately raised the alarm, and in a very few moments a great many people were on the ground but too late to save anything except what was in the family room of Mr. Hardin and the kitchen, the smoke and steam being too severe, even in the hallway, to permit them to remove what articles were in the closet. The jail is built with a residence for the jailer attached, only a hall separating the residence from the cells and cage. Immediately upon the arrival of assistance, Jailer Hardin hand-cuffed and released the prisoners, placing a sufficient guard over them. As stated above, only the articles in the family room were saved. Attempts were made to enter the upper rooms and save the furniture, etc. up there, but the heat and smoke were so suffocating that they could not stand it, consequently everything in the upper room fell a prey to the flames, estimated to have been worth several hundred dollars. Included in the loss was all their wearing apparel except what they had been using on the day previous, leaving them in destitute circumstances.
For several rods around the heat was intense, and it was with great difficulty that the store of Cortez Brown, the residence of Judge Pearl and the smokehouse belonging to the Jailer were saved. The jail was built in 1874, at a cost to the county of $3,500. It consisted of two cells below about ten feet square, constructed of oak plank, 2 x 12 inches, set edge-wise and spiked together with forty pennies, driven every three inches making a wall one foot thick and lined with sheet iron, and an iron cage above. Notwithstanding the fire broke out at 12 o'clock, the cells never gave way until about 4 o'clock a.m., although the framed portion of the building was in ashes in less than an hour and a half after the alarm was given. The cage was set upon top of the cells, and, in its fall, being so hot and heavy, it was twisted out of shape, so that it was rendered useless. It has been in use about 20 years and cost about $1,200. The county judge, we presume, will call an extra session of the Court of Claims immediately, for the purpose of making a county levy, so that the jail will be rebuilt, without delay. The very best of proof has been had that the prisoners, who were confined in the jail at the time, fired it, in attempting to burn their way out.
LATER - The prisoners confessed to having fired the jail.
The prisoners in the jail at the time of the fire were: Larkin Byrd, charged with breaking into and robbing a freight car, and Charles Ward, Frank Rice and Larkin Cress, moonshiners.
According to an order issued by Judge Finley, Jailer Hardin carried Larkin Byrd to the Lincoln County jail yesterday for safekeeping. The other three prisoners are being guarded until the Deputy U.S. Marshall, J. V. L. Brown, returns, who will take them immediately to the Covington jail.
May 11, 1883 - Deputy U. S. Marshall, J. V. L. Brown, accompanied by Messrs. J. R. Hardin, A. L. Reid, W. R. Killion, left last Saturday morning on the train for Covington with nine moonshiners, among whom are Larkin Cress, Chas. Ward and Frank Rice who were the parties who fired the jail. Warrants of arrest charging them with arson have been issued by the authorities here against Cress and Ward and forwarded to the jailer of Kenton county and against Larkin Byrd and forwarded to the jailer of Lincoln county, upon which they will be arrested as soon as they are released from their present quarters. The penalty for their crime is confinement in the penitentiary for not more than 21 years and not less than seven.
August 3, 1883 - Charles Ward charged with complicity in burning the Laurel county jail about three months ago stood an examining trial before Judge Jones last Monday and was discharged.
September 7, 1883 - The prisoners in the Stanford jail broke jail last Monday night, and the following prisoners escaped: Larkin Byrd, of this county, charged with robbing a car and house burning; Bill Dunnegan, of Jackson for murder; Rainwater, of Whitley, for murder; and Dyehouse, of Garrard, for house-breaking. None of the parties so far as we have learned have been re-arrested.
September 14, 1883 - Larkin Byrd an account of whose escape from the Lincoln county jail we gave in our last issue has been re-captured and is again confined in his old quarters at Stanford.
October 12, 1883 - Larkin Byrd was tried in the recent term of our circuit court of the offense of breaking into and robbing a car but was acquitted. He was re-arrested however upon a warrant charging him with burning the county jail and still lingers in jail.
April 4, 1884 - "…. The case against Larkin Byrd for burning jail has been continued until next term."
Using the newspaper excerpts I was unable to find out which prisoners, if any, were found guilty of setting the fire. Next week I hope to write about the jailers who guarded this jail. You may contact me through the Laurel County Historical Society by calling 606-864-0607 or e-mail me at HYPERLINK "mailto:email@example.com" firstname.lastname@example.org (The first character is a lower case L as in Laurel.) The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 West 3rd Street in the old Health Department Building. We are open on Mondays & Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We will open on other days by appointment. Please contact us far enough in advance to schedule a volunteer to open the library.