The city of Dallas' first jail was burned down—by its prisoners.
The log cabin-style jail was built soon after the county seat was moved to Dallas in 1852. In 1859, it was destroyed by fire, something that would have been relatively easy for the prisoners to do, said Jason Edwards, Paulding County’s historian.
“It probably wouldn’t have been that difficult back then,” Edwards said. “It was just a one-room building. Plus, they would have had a fireplace to heat with. They had ready access to fire.”
After the prisoners set the jail on fire and escaped, Paulding County went seven years without a detention facility—instead transporting criminals to other jurisdictions, like Cobb or Carroll counties.
“I’ve seen that they one time took prisoners to Coweta County,” Edwards said. “The county would pay people so much money to take the prisoners or go get them.”
In 1866, the county built another log jail, which still stands today behind the Paulding County Museum on North Johnston Street. The building had a metal cage where prisoners were kept, and Edwards said it wasn’t a secure facility. In fact, he said that every grand jury would recommend that the county build a new facility.
“That was right after the Civil War, and it was just thrown together,” Edwards said. “It wasn’t anything like a long-term holding place.”
In the years before the modern era, the county’s only law enforcement officers were the sheriff and two deputies. And, being the only one on staff at the jail, the jailer and his family typically would live in an apartment at the building as well.
“He was the jailer, so he had to know what was going on,” Edwards said.
And the sheriff even took prisoners home with him from time-to-time. In the 1870s, Sheriff Henry Braswell, who lived somewhere between downtown Dallas and the current WellStar Paulding Hospital on West Memorial Drive, was known to keep prisoners at his house.
“The county paid him so much for food and blankets,” Edwards said.
In 1878, a brick jail was built on the square where the Georgia Highlands College facility now is located. It was used until 1951 and was torn down in 1990. In 1951, a replacement jail was built across from where the Dallas New Era stands, and that facility was used until the 1980s, when the current Paulding County Sheriff's Office was built. It was torn down in 2000.