1910 Old Jail

Designed in a Spanish Mission Revival style by john Phelps and Atlee Ayers ( Ayers & Phelps), the Old Jail was built 1909-1910 along with the Hidalgo County Courthouse, which stood in the County Square nearby.

The Jail’s walls were made of solid brick, its floors were concrete, and the roof was made of clay tiles on wooden structures. Inside, the jailer’s office and living quarters were located on the ground floor. The prisoners’ cell rooms were located on the second floor, along with the hanging room in the tower. The second floor probably had one or more steel cell-block units.

During the cold winter, wood-burning stoves were used to heat the jail and keep the prisoners warm. Their water source was usually a windmill and wooden water tank that stood behind the Jail.

According to records, the hanging apparatus was used only once. The condemned Abram Ortiz was convicted of rape and murder and executed in 1913. No other hangings are on record. Local folklore rumors Ortiz’ ghost haunts the jail by clanking his shackles. Years later, other reports by volunteer firemen bunking on the second floor claim “hearing things” throughout the night.

In 1922, the Jail was replaced by a larger successor. The 1910 Jail saw use as a community center and in the 30’s was turned into the fire station and city hall. A brick “garage” for fire trucks was built alongside (in what is now the Heritage Courtyard), facing McIntyre Street. The firemen’s sleeping quarters were on the second floor, with a pole to slide down to the trucks.

Replaced by a new city hall and fire station in the mid-1960’s, the Jail was vacant and deteriorating. It was then chosen as the home for the newly-organized Hidalgo County Historical Museum.

The Jail was refurbished, the window bars were reconstructed, the roofs repaired and air conditioning installed. The Jail was added to the State list of registered historical landmarks, with a medallion and marker from the Texas State Historical Survey Committee (now the Texas Historical Commission).

The Jail’s walls were made of solid brick, its floors were concrete, and the roof was made of clay tiles on wooden structures. Inside, the jailer’s office and living quarters were located on the ground floor. The prisoners’ cell rooms were located on the second floor, along with the hanging room in the tower. The second floor probably had one or more steel cell-block units.

During the cold winter, wood-burning stoves were used to heat the jail and keep the prisoners warm. Their water source was usually a windmill and wooden water tank that stood behind the Jail.

According to records, the hanging apparatus was used only once. The condemned Abram Ortiz was convicted of rape and murder and executed in 1913. No other hangings are on record. Local folklore rumors Ortiz’ ghost haunts the jail by clanking his shackles. Years later, other reports by volunteer firemen bunking on the second floor claim “hearing things” throughout the night.

The 1910 Jail museum opened in April, 1970. As the popularity of the museum grew, it prompted a “North Wing” addition in 1975-77 to house more exhibits, collections storage, offices and workshops. Over the years the Jail has remained a significant part of the museum. It still houses exhibits and the hanging room which is one of our most popular attractions.

Decades of slow deterioration, caused mainly by rising damp, took their toll. Finally, after a determined fundraising effort over several years, the Jail underwent extensive repairs and renovation during 2017 and 2018. Among other steps, a special moisture barrier was inserted into every wall near ground level, to block any further upward movement of ground water. In addition an all-new ground-floor concrete slab was poured, with a moisture barrier under it as well. Brick walls were repaired, windows were rebuilt, and all-new wiring was installed. In February 2019 the complex job was officially completed.

Today, in March 2019, the Jail looks much as it did when newly finished in the fall of 1910, with a few modern touches like LED track lighting and digital climate control. The Jail’s best-known feature, the gallows trap-door, remains securely in place, as if awaiting its next grim use. All-new exhibits will come next, with a grand-re-opening planned for 2020. Watch for publicity releases about the Jail and the exhibits’ progress in the months ahead. As always thanks the regional community and donors for their financial support in restoring the 1910 Jail.

200 N. Closner Blvd   Edinburg, Texas 78541

Copyright © 2019 Museum of South Texas History. All Rights Reserved.

American Alliance of Museums Accredited Museum

Looking to Donate to the MOSTHistory Museum?