Main Street Stories: Old County Jail Museum

Jena Stopczynski / ABC 57

WARSAW, Ind. -- The Old County Jail Museum, or the "Gray Bar Hotel" as the staff so lovingly call it, is not only the former home of prisoners, but home to Kosciusko County's history.

It is quite the unique place that holds history while being a piece of history itself.

"We didn't have any place for the county museum…the county was evacuating this building, and they knew they didn't want to tear it down, but they didn't know what to do with it so it kind of worked out as a mutually beneficial arrangement for everybody," shared Co-Director Greg Steffe.

Before you reach the "bullpen," you are greeted by the third-generation death mask and artifacts from Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger.

The museum is home to a .32 Colt automatic that was used in Dillinger's last bank robbery in South Bend at Merchant's National Bank on June 30, 1934.

Dillinger also raided the Warsaw Police Department on April 12,1934 stealing two Smith and Wesson revolvers and three bullet proof vests. Seen in the Dillinger artifact case is one of those vests.

As you wind back through a maze of bars you reach the bullpen, which is where male prisoners called home. While most jail cells here are filled with artifacts, one cell remains the way it looked when it was built in 1871.

I had the chance to try out the mattress, if you would like to call it that.Original jail cell from 1871. by Jena Stopczynski / ABC57

There were no showers, and each cell contained a bucket. Prisoners could wash in a communal sink.

Walking through the bullpen you can also find a hand-written prisoner registry. Steffe and Co-Director Sheila Strickland told me they sometimes have visitors that find themselves, or grandma, on that list.

Another cell left untouched, the solitary confinement cell, really gives you a taste of what being imprisoned there would've been like. With no electricity, the only light to be had is through a window.

The juvenile prisoners, after getting a good scare with an experience in the solitary confinement cell, would spend time in one of two small cells. They were also required to complete school lessons during their time in jail.

The women's cell block came complete with some "softer" bunks, so if a mother was imprisoned, she could have her child with her. These were days before child protective services and foster care.

The jail cells were just one of many parts to this sprawling collection of Kosciusko County history.

Attached to the jail is the former sheriff's residence. The last of which was Sheriff Dave Andrews and his family.

The sheriff's matron cooked not only for their family, but also the prisoners. And they all ate the same thing. She was paid seven to 10 cents per plate, and 15 cents if it wasn't a full house.

While walking from room to room of the residence, you find yourself in gallery installations. Next to the sOld County Jail Museum by Jena Stopczynski / ABC57heriff's kitchen is the museum's featured exhibit for the year, celebrating Indiana's rich circus heritage.

There are Native American artifacts and 14,000-year-old mastodon bones in hallways.

Climbing stairs, you find yourself back in rooms that look as if the sheriff lived there today. A music room and master bedroom hold many interesting stories.

A copper and zinc bathtub greets you in the master bedroom.

"Back then you would have to pump water out of the well, heat it up on your stove, pour the water in here and hopefully by the time you take a bath the water is still warm," said Strickland.

The saying "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," (I have to admit I've never heard of this one), comes from a tub like this.

"It normally went the father would take a bath first, the mother would take a bath, the oldest child and so on. Using the same bath water unfortunately," added Strickland.

The saying "Sleep tight," (I have definitely heard this one), comes from a bed such as the one in this room.

As Strickland lifted the covers, you could see literal ropes in a cris-cross pattern.

"You would have to tighten these ropes every single night before you go to bed. If not, you would find yourself on the floor."

The Kosciusko County Historical Society tour would not be complete without the story of how Warsaw became known as the Orthopedic Capital of the World.

Revra DePuy started his orthopedic business in Grand Rapids but found himself traveling through Warsaw.

As so many stories go, he fell in love. As a matter of fact, with the daughter of the sheriff.

They were married, and DePuy was talked into relocating his business to Warsaw. The rest, as they say, is history.

The remaining rooms are filled with hundreds, likely thousands of local artifacts. From medical inventions and cameras to old photographs, and pieces from former Hotel Hayes whose most prominent guest was former president Herbert Hoover. The Old County Jail Museum is truly one of a kind.

Steffe would like to invite the public to their event on Friday, June 21, titled Museum Under the Big Top. This open house is in conjunction with their featured circus exhibit. There will be children's activities, circus themed refreshments, live music and more.

Click here to learn more about the Kosciusko County Historical Society.

Kosciusko County Historical Society by Jena Stopczynski / ABC57Kosciusko County Historical Society by Jena Stopczynski / ABC57

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