Old Tuscaloosa County Jail, 2803 Sixth Street, Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, c.1856 (Places in Peril 2014)
The Old Tuscaloosa County Jail is a handsome two-story brick building (with Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, and Italianate features) that served as the county jail from 1856 to 1890. It sits vacant across the street from Tuscaloosa’s Capitol Park, near the site of urban redevelopment that is transforming downtown Tuscaloosa with new residential and retail construction. It has been vacant for five years and the owner, Tuscaloosa City School Board of Education, has no immediate plans for proactive preservation or restoration of the historic building. The historic structure is relatively weather-tight, but it is suffering from demolition by neglect, and the burgeoning value of nearby real estate could raise the risk of losing this rare public building that survives from Tuscaloosa’s early days.
The building was probably constructed in 1856 to the plans of William B. Robertson, but some evidence suggests it was built in the 1840s and served as a hotel before functioning as the jail from 1856 to 1890. (Only one other jail from that era, Coosa Co. Jail, Rockford, ca. 1845, still stands in Alabama. It is a museum.) Among other notorious criminals, it housed the infamous “Outlaw Sheriff of Sumter County,” Stephen S. Renfroe, who attempted to burn a hole in its solid log floor (8 x 12 inch high squared logs) to escape—the 28-inch thick walls acting as an adequate deterrent. From 1890 to 1951, the handsome hip-roofed building with its four end chimneys and bold surrounds on its main entrance served as a private residence and boarding house. The VFW occupied the spacious, centrally located place from 1951 through 1979, when it was listed on the National Register and became a public school building (until 2003) and then a private school (2003-07). It has been vacant since 2007, when the private school that had leased the building moved out, complaining about lack of maintenance, potential asbestos problems, and building code violations.
Alabama's Endangered Historic Landmarks
Each year since 1994, Alabama Heritage has highlighted threatened historic sites throughout Alabama. The “Places in Peril” list has identified more than 215 imperiled historic resources throughout the state, and is compiled by the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation. The locations highlight the results of deferred maintenance, perceived obsolescence, development pressures, and lack of funding—forces that now more than ever threaten our cultural legacy. But awareness is a powerful force, too, and can cultivate a renewed determination to be responsible stewards of our heritage. For more information, visit the AHC or the ATHP websites. Alabama Heritage is proud to bring to you a selection of the places designated as perilous. Please keep your comments to information relevant to the featured place in peril. Alabama Heritage reserves the right to delete any comment that we deem inappropriate.