The jail, located a short walk from the courthouse, is a small single-story limestone and concrete structure with a hip roof that has a cupola-like raised central section to provide ventilation.
The jail was built in 1873 (same year as the first courthouse) by Millard and King's Contractors for $7400. It was used as the Lawrence County jail from 1873 to 1930. During this time, it was the scene of several incidents:
- May 21, 1887, suspected rapist Andrew Springer was forcefully taken from the jail and lynched by a mob.
- June 1897: John Scanlan escaped from Powhatan jail. jailbreak John Scanlan.pdf
- September 17, 1897: Ben Cox, who had been sentenced to five years in prison for horse theft, escaped custody. (Arkansas Gazette, p.5)Cox jailbreak.pdf
- July 16, 1889: two men named Stroud and Warner escaped. Stroud_and_Warner_escape__7_16_1889.pdf
- October 23, 1898: several men escaped from the jail on a Sunday night; among them were Ab Phillips, Rufe Wallis, and Morris Heath. There is no explanation why these men were mentioned by name.Powhatan_jail_break__10_25_1898.pdf
- December 12, 1898: Tom Horton escaped from the jail. Tom_Horton_escapes__12_12_1898.pdf
- May 10, 1901: Robert Mosby, who was in jail for shooting his wife, hanged himself in his cell with a bed sheet. (Pine Bluf Daily Graphic, 1901) crime Mosby 3.pdf
- Jun 13, 1902: Jack Hall and six other prisoners escaped by prying the door open with a crowbar, though it's not revealed how they acquired it. Hall, once a hotel manager in Imboden, was in jail for bootlegging but also suspected of involvement with a train robbery in Bonnerville. (Arkansas Democrat, p. 8)jailbreak Jack Hall crowbar.pdf
- July 10 1902: An unnamed black man was taken to jail for allegedly assaulting a 9 year old girl. A lynch mob of 100 citizens went to the jail to lynch the man. Sheriff McCall slipped him out and hid him from the mob. lynch mob.pdf
- October 1906: Four prisoners escaped from the Powhatan jail.jailbreak.pdf
- Oct 25 1908: Alf Bagley was imprisoned in the jail for the murder of Lee Ridgeway in Walnut Ridge. Bagley was avenging his brother Ed's death, whom Ridgeway had shot and killed several years prior.1
- 1909: Ross Sloan was transported to Powhatan Jail from Walnut Ridge. Despite being handcuffed and shackled, he escaped his captors and was found at Osceola. He was arrested and sent to the penitentiary. RossSloan.pdf
- August 1909: 9 boys in Lawrence County were caught stealing chickens from a farmer. They were sentenced to pay a fine of $18.75 and sentenced to 6 hours in the county jail. This is likely the shortest sentence in the jail's history. Boys steal chickens and get put in jail.pdf
- Late February, 1911: Ross Sloan and Alexander Miller escaped from the jail by digging a hole in the wall. (Arkansas Gazette, p.4)jailbreak 1911.pdf
Conditions in the jail had noticeably declined by 1893, as evidenced by the sworn testimony of five men--John Cobble, D.B. Rockwell, Ed Norman, William Nunn, H. Campbell--as recorded on March 22. The men said that they had "no means by which to obtain food or bedding." The first cells used in the jail were referred to as "cages" by contemporary reports. Two survive in the jail today. They were large enough to hold four or five men, but prisoners only got a bucket, i.e. "slop jar" to use as a toilet. Food and other necessities were supplied by sympathetic friends and family. In 1897, the county decided to contract prisoners out to work, with the county paying $0.33 a day per prisoner to the Thompson Hotel, who would furnish meals. Furthermore, the contract specifically that the prisoners must not be worked more than ten hours a day and never forced into dangerous circumstances. (Powhatan SP Archive)
Despite the fact that Walnut Ridge was seat of the Eastern District of Lawrence County, and it had rapidly eclipsed Powhatan by the 20th Century, they did not have a jail of their own until 1911.WR_jail_nearing_completion__8_26_1911.pdf Hence, the jail at Powhatan was used for many years even as the town around it declined.
The building was used as a cannery from 1935-1937 by the county's Home Demonstration Clubs (today's Home Extension Service), and rented to Waddell's Honey as a processing plant for $100 a year. from 1965 to 1972. It has since been restored.
People known to be imprisoned in the jail
The following list is for people known to be held in jail at Powhatan, but do not warrant a full page. This is because they either did not live in Powhatan or not enough information is known or is not notable enough.
- Five men were arrested and convicted for selling liquor without a license; they were each sentenced to pay $100 and serve thirty days in the penitentiary, but were allowed to serve their time in the Powhatan jail instead, Five_held_at_Powhatan_jail_on_selling_liquor_without_a_license__1_20_1885.pdf
- Beth Goza, a suspected murderer who fled to Texas and evaded authorities for five years.
- James Brooks, wanted in Missouri as accessory to murder was captured and held in Powhatan.1a
- Rufus Kincaid was imprisoned in jail at Powhatan. Charged with stealing a raft of logs from the river.1b
- Larry Brown and three other men of his alleged "gang;" thought to have operated out of Hoxie in the 1890s. Larry Brown convicted, gang held at Powhatan, 10-18-1895.pdf
- Nath Baker was confined in the jail after stabbing William Broadway in a drunken fight. Nath Baker held at Powhatan for knife fighting, 4-3-1900.pdf
- Henry White was jailed for the murder of Charlie Hale in December 1898. He was caught in Vicksburg, living under an assumed name.1bb
- An unnamed painter was put in jail to serve out a fine, but he was then forced to paint and "kalsomine" (calcimine/whitewash) the entire courthouse. Painter jailed at Powhatan, forced to paint courthouse, 8-19-1904.pdf
- Frank Browning was arrested for the murder of T.W. Midkiff, a telegraph operator for the Iron Mountain Railroad in Hoxie, and kept in the jail, Frank_Browning_kept_in_jail_on_murder_charge__12_29_1905.pdf
- Lee Fulton, a black man, assaulted McHenry, a white man, with a baseball bat. He was placed under arrest and taken to the jail.1c
- Marvin Montgomery committed larceny in 1907 and fled. On his return he was captured and placed in jail.1d
- Anderson Turner, Garfield Turner and Sam Secreast, charged with murder of John Whetson, held in Powhatan.1e
- Jesse C. Hill, brother of Fair Belle Shirey. He was arrested and charged with accessory to murder in connection to his brother-in-law's death.1f
- Sam Payne was jailed for shooting Marvin Angle after a craps game.2
- Willis Dixon was jailed for "raising a check."2a
- "Shorty" Defts was jailed and convicted at Powhatan for his role in robbing the Ravenden bank. He later escaped from the state prison farm.3
1a. Ironton County Register (Ironton, Missouri, United States of America) · 10 Oct 1889, Thu · Page 5 crime_James Brooks.pdf
1b. Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Pulaski, Arkansas) · 6 Feb 1890, Thu · Page 5 Kincaid in jail.pdf
1bb. Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas) · Wed, Apr 11, 1900 · Page 5 Henry White in Jail for murder.pdf
1c. Batesville Guard (Batesville, Arkansas, United States of America) · 4 Jun 1909, Fri Lee Fulton in jail.pdf
1d. Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Pulaski, Arkansas) · 16 Aug 1910, Tue · Page 1 Montgomery in jail.pdf
1e. Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Pulaski, Arkansas) · 8 Jan 1910, Sat three held for murder.pdf
1f "Shirey's Widow to Face Grand Jury." August 18, 1910. p.1.
2. Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Pulaski, Arkansas) · 17 Jun 1913, Tue · Page 12 crime_gambling_ Marvin Angle shot.pdf
2a. Batesville Daily Guard (Batesville, Arkansas, United States of America) · 4 Sep 1914, Fri · Page 3 Dixon jailed for bad check from Mill.pdf
3. Batesville Daily Guard (Batesville, Arkansas, United States of America) · 1 Feb 1917, Thu · Page 1 bank robber escapes Shorty Defts.pdf