A History of the Village Lockup

A news item in the 22 July 1857 Fredonia Censor reported that a William Maloney of Water st was being held at the Johnson House (1 Park Place). “Time our village had a secure lockup” was the papers comment. At the annual meeting on 7 April 1858 the electors voted to raise $100 to build one, and a request for bids was advertised in the Censor on 24 April 1858. The minutes of 1 May 1858 note the acceptance of William A Johnson’s bid to build it, and on 29 May he was ordered to be paid $95 for the work. It was a small plank building measuring all of 16×18 feet and probably stood on the Village Lot just above 21 Center St.

The building must have received some use since Johnson was authorized to do some repairs on it on 7 May 1859. George D Jones was to repair the lockup as noted on 28 May 1860, but a note in the minutes of 25 June says that Aaron Brand was paid an additional $1.25 for the cost of lumber and his work repairing the building.

Discussion about the condition of the lockup continued. Finally, a committee of the Trustees examined it carefully and concluded that it was in such bad shape that repair would be too expensive. Instead, on 3 June 1865, they recommended that tow cells be constructed on the second floor of the Engine House. That building at 21 Center St was actually the first of several multi-purpose Village Halls. It was of brick, two stories, and had been built in 1852/1853. Bu 1865 the Engine House portion had fallen into disuse, some of it rented for a schoolroom.

The old lock up building was sold for $50 and the new cells were built at the 21 Center St location at the cost of $53. When the first Normal School building went up in 1867, the Academy functions because part of the Normal School and the village took over the old academy building to use as its Village/Fire Hall. With the fire department moving to the former Academy, where the Village Hall stands today, room was left on the ground floor of the old Engine House to add more cells for the lockup.

In March 1870 there was discussion about selling 21 Center St, leasing land on Hart St for a Village Pound and building a new lockup on the Academy lot. However, that apparently was never done. Instead, in November and December 1871, Ira Woods and others were paid for their work on a new lockup building at the old site, 21 Center St where the 1867 map of the Village labels the old building as an Engine House, the 1875 Sanborn map simply labels its replacement as a “jail” and the same is true of the 1881 map of the Village and the Sanborn Insurance maps 1886, 1891, and 1896..

There were two major events in the Village that brought about a complete change in the lockup and the police department location. One was the development of a Village water supply, and the other was the decision to build a new Village Hall.

In 1884 a reservoir was constructed in the hills south of the Village. For the first time, there were fire hydrants in the Village and sufficient water pressure to fight fires in the business and built-up residential areas. That meant a diminished role for that large numbers of volunteer firemen who had worked the pumper in relays, or helped from bucket brigades.

In 1889 efforts were under way to remove the old Academy building and replace it with a larger, more modern Village Hall. As with the original municipal building at 21 Center St and then with the refurbished Academy building, the new Village hall was also supposed to be a multipurpose structure. It was to house the Village office, fire companies and the lockup as well as offset some of its costs by renting out the Opera House, Post Office and news room space, and private offices.

There apparently was an understanding that the Fire Companies would have a spacious meeting room on the second floor. However, when the Trustees chose to rent that space to the Citizens ‘Club, a group of prominent local men, the Firemen rebelled and ultimately resigned, complaining that they had been offered only inadequate meeting space and “a place for the apparatus in a damp basement.” Because of the water works seemed to mean the Village could get by with a smaller force, the volunteer companies were replaced by a paid department with fewer men.

In 1900 disaster stuck. First, in January a fire killed two people and destroyed many buildings on West Main and along Center st, including the old Fire hall/Lockup at 21 Center st, Much worse was the Normal School fire in December 1900 in which six students and the janitor died. The public uproar eventually brought back the old Fire Companies. As a consequence, the Village brought the corner lot at Church and Center St and put up a new fire hall in 1901/1902 into which the reconfigured fire department and their equipment moved by late in 1902.

That of course freed up much of the bottom floor of Village Hall, the “damp basement.”
When the lockup was constructed in the Village Hall basement in 1891, the Trustees began a pattern of combining the position of Janitor of Village Hall—which carried with it a free apartment in the building—with that of special constable or special policeman. In March 1894 W.S. Allen, chosen as Janitor, was also appointed as special policeman “without compensation” as he was “given a key to the lock up”. In other words the Janitor doubled as Jailer. By 1901 the janitor was also the Chief of Police “without compensation.” This pattern continued until 1925.

In that year, the Chief was appointed only to the one position with someone else becoming Janitor. In 1926 that someone else was also named patrolman. Since he continued to live in the Village Hall apartment, he must have become the new jailer.

There is little on the record about the lockup in the Village Hall. It is merely mentioned as one of the facilities in the multi-purpose building whenever the Village Hall is described in a newspaper article. Periodically the state inspected the facilities and submitted a copy of its report to the Village. The 8 December 1909 Censor was quite gleeful in reporting that the State Prison Commission “severely condemned” the Dunkirk jail but commended Fredonia. “In Fredonia the police headquarters are located in the city hall, a very neat and fine appearing building. The officer in charge lives on the ground floor, and the cell rooms are the sub-basement. Everything about the premises is kept up in first class condition. The men are confined in steel cells, three in number.”

That arrangement continued. For example, The Censor of 28 August 1930 summarized a 4 August report, stating that “the lockup, consisting of a cell room with three latticed steel cages, and a lodgers’ room…remains as located at the time of the last inspection.”

It was into the space that included the lockup that the Fredonia Police Department was located when it was first established and where it exists today.

Prepared by; Douglas H. Shepard