County by County: Jail Museum

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In our County by County series we take a step back into the old Clark County Jail.

First News at Nine’s Zach Prelutsky shows us inside the jail and explains why it might not look like what you would expect.

Towering over the Clark County courthouse in downtown Neillsville, it’s not a castle but rather the Clark County Jail Museum.

It’s really the third Clark County Jail.  It was built of course in 1897 and it cost about $15,000 way back when. It served the community until 1974, said Clark County jail museum administrator, Natalie Erpenbach

After the new jail was built…this structure was leased to the clark county historical society and turned into a jail museum..

But when you step into the front doors of the old jail, you don’t walk right into cells…

The first thing that they’re struck by when they come in the front door is that they’re in a house, a Victorian house.  Because what they’re expecting is a jail, because it’s the Clark County Jail Museum, and so we’re in a house, where’s the jail.  Well the jail’s in the back part of the building, said Erpenbach

For the nearly 80 years, Clark County sheriffs and their families would call the jail home, living in the first part of the jail, with the prisoners not far away.

I think it was a common enough practice, I don’t think every county did it that way.  But I think in early days I think it made sense because it was a public structure, and then they offered that as a benefit to the sheriff. Said Erpenbach.

Today the Clark County Jail Museum still has the feel of the early 20th century.

And once you see the residence, tou step through the kitchen into the jail.

We have three floors to the jail. So the first floor has six cells and it’d be two people in each cell max so you could do 12.  And then the next floor it’s an exact duplicate layout, so you could do another 12.  And then the third floor, which we use as a military display forum now, that was where they housed women and children. Erpenbach said. 

The non-profit that runs the museum holds public tours each Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day or by appointment.

Over the years, they say people who spent time here, either as a criminal or sheriff always bring back stories.

“Just a couple of weeks ago one of our former sheriff’s he was here for a meeting and he really had a good time looking around and he would easily tell us where things were and who sat where and what the purpose of each room was.”

In addition to the mystique the jail itself brings, the Clark County Jail Museum also puts together rotating exhibits to show the history of Clark County.

The pictures that we have that we can show people cause it’s a museum and we take people through, but it also houses history records of families and communities of Clark County. And so after a while you feel like you know these families because you’ve talked about them so much.
 

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