Step into History at an East Texas Jailhouse

Come visit the historic San Augustine County Jail. (Film/Edit by Justin Mott)
Published: Nov. 7, 2023 at 4:25 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2023 at 4:29 PM EST
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What comes to mind when you think of a jail from the 1920′s? ‘Enjoyable?’ ‘Squeaky clean?’ ‘A learning experience for all ages?’ Chances are none of these thoughts came up. However, that probably means you’ve never experienced the San Augustine County Jail.

“The jail was actually built in around the first three months of 1919. It was active from 1919 until 2001. Lasted a long time.”

Neal Murphy, who serves as the docent of the San Augustine County Jail, explains that for almost a full century, the San Augustine County Jail actively served as a cornerstone of upholding justice in this East Texas region. As industry and technology in America began to rapidly advance in the early 20th century, organized crime would grow and adapt, as well. An uptick in bank robberies, car chases, and so on would almost be glorified by the media with the arrival of many modern outlaws, such as the infamous Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930′s. Thankfully for the San Augustine area, there were men and women who committed their lives to stop injustice and uphold law.

As you walk into the old brick jailhouse, you are met with a sense of ‘old-America.’ Various memorabilia tell century-old tales. The black and white photographs tell about people who presumably held daily interactions here. The well-preserved, dark hardwood furniture. The old police captain’s hat placed on the side desk. The weathered, but still strong, steel bars of the holding cells. In many portions of the museum, it’s as if time had stopped in 1930.

“This is one of the first counties in the state to have all their old records digitized … about three and a half million documents and it’ll find what you’re looking for in about 15 seconds.”

Yet, what is just as captivating is the number of 100yr old documents that the jail has in their position. According to Neal, they have a full digital archive of newspapers, criminal records, and stories of law enforcement all waiting to be rediscovered. You can sit and relive many of these tales on the computer provided there. Spend a few moments here and learn what it was like to be a police officer during this time. Follow the trail of how perpetrators were taken down in the name of justice. Immerse yourself in the rich history that this museum has to offer.

We hope that you’ll stop by the San Augustine County Jail sometime. Peer through the window of time as you investigate your own curiosities of what law and order looked like during this epoch of East Texas’ history. Be sure to chat with Neal, as one of his favorite things is to meet new travelers and share all of the stories and memorabilia that the museum has to offer. The San Augustine County Jail Museum is located on the San Augustine Courthouse grounds, facing S. Harrison St. Below is a map for when you’re ready to plan your visit!

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