History repeats itself as the Duval County jail goes up in flames in 1932

In April 1932 history repeated itself. On April 12, 1932 at 10 a.m., the Duval County Jail burned to the ground. Five prisoners were in the jail and were safely removed. The Alice fire department was called, but the lack of water prevented them from extinguishing the blaze. The jail was located on southwest corner on which the courthouse now stands, where the old courthouse had been located when it burned. After construction of new courthouse, the former building with 7-8 rooms was converted into jail. Prisoners were suspected as having set the fire.

On May 26, 1938, the court approved notice for bids to be solicited for a remodeling of the courthouse to include an annex with a jail on the second floor. The annex was to be connected to the existing structure via an enclosed walkway. They hired the architectural firm of Page & Sutherland to design the new addition for a fee of 7 percent of the cost of construction.

On June 15, 1938, the court received three bids but only one was for the entire job required. Two did not include the jail, plumbing, or electrical requirements. The court awarded the bid for the expansion of the courthouse and new jail to a local contractor, C.C. Fowler, in the amount of $98,987.36, allowing 160 days to complete the work. Separate bids were submitted for the jail equipment, the electrical, and the plumbing. The court also authorized warrants to be issued for payment of the work. Work on the jail expansion was completed in December 1938.

The 1938 addition to the Duval County Courthouse occurred under the administration of County Judge Dan Tobin.

In December 1977, commissioners court began review of plans for jail improvements. This was prompted by a finding by the Texas Jail Standards Commission that the jail did not meet state standards.
jistorical-commissionDiscussions regarding the jail expansion languished for years until 1999 when the jail and courthouse expansion was completed. While the expansion project was prompted by a Texas Jail Commission report, another state agency–the Texas Historical Commission–pointed to aspects of the project that would be counter to historic preservation law. The commissioners court wrestled with the problem for years. In 1994, architect Morgan Spears and Sheriff Santiago Barrera urged the court to go forward with the $700,000 project assuring them that revenue from housing state and federal prisoners would cover the county’s costs.

escapeeOn January 27, 1997, commissioners court approved a resolution for a loan in the amount $1.4 million to expand the county jail. Two days later an inmate escaped from the jail. Before the jail was finally expanded in 1999, five prison escapes were recorded including a convicted murderer and a convicted rapist.

Later that year, in November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development Agency awarded the county a $1.5 million loan to complete an expansion, which now included a new district courtroom in addition to the jail. The project called for a new district courtroom, expansion of the jail and district clerk’s office, two elevators and other improvements to the courthouse. The project had grown to some $600,000 more than its original estimates. The Rural Development Agency approved the additional loan and in August 1998, the commissioners court voted to go ahead with the project. A month later, the court a final contract for $1.9 million with Progressive Structures of Corpus Christi to complete the expansion in 330 days.


Current Duval County Jail.

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