The Old Brunswick County Jail is a favorite stop along any historic Downtown Southport walking tour, as the early 1900s structure is chock-full of stories which span from its stately brick architecture to its original sprinklings of graffiti, still legible after more than a century.
Managed by the Southport Historical Society, and a favorite local attraction for history buffs and curious sightseers alike, the Southport County Jail is an undeniably fascinating exhibit that will make any visitor happy to temporarily explore the darker side of North Carolina's criminal justice system.
Despite its two-story brick facade, which would look right at home in a Revolutionary or Pre-Civil War setting, the structure is a relatively "new" addition to historic Southport, and was constructed in 1904 while the town served as the country seat of Brunswick County. The structure cost nearly $7,000 to build, a good sum at the time, and served as the county and town jail for nearly 70 years, finally closing its iron bar-lined doors in 1971. While in operation, the jail housed the majority of local delinquents and criminals, and even the jailers themselves - in fact, true to the customs of its time, the jail has special "basement quarters" when the local jailers and their families would live while they worked at the structure.
After the jail was abandoned in 1971, the structure began a slow deterioration that would last until 1984, when the Southport Historical Society took notice and stepped in on the historic structure's behalf. A leader in preserving the local legendary buildings and landmarks, the Southport Historical Society began what would effectively become a 20 year campaign to save the site, cumulating with an early 21st century restoration that would bring the jail back to it "former glory." In 2004, the Old Brunswick County Jail opened its doors to the public, while doubling as the headquarters for the Southport Historical Society, and has been one of Southport's favorite local sites of distinction ever since.
Tour-goers will be fascinated with the in-depth history within the site, which ranges from the two detainee cells, with 4 bunks each, to the "basement" accommodations for the jailer and his family. The most famous occupant of these jailhouse cells was Sissy Spacek, who filmed a number of scenes within the Old Brunswick County Jail for the 1986 movie "Crimes of the Heart."
While modern visitors most likely won't encounter locked-up celebrities, they will be able to view both cells and the second floor roundabout, as well as the authentic graffiti that has been left behind from decades-old residents who spent a portion of their time in the Brunswick County facilities. The Old Brunswick County Jail is open for docent-led tours, generally from April through October, on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons from 12:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. Passer-bys, of course, can admire the Live Oak-lined structure on any time, (and capture some great photos to boot), but the guided tours, led by local volunteer experts, are the best way to explore this unique little Southport landmark in depth. Donations are always welcome to both preserve the structure, and help the Southport Historical Society in achieving its longstanding goal of keeping Southport's notable structures in pristine condition, and wide open to the public.
The site is also easy to find for any local explorer, with a convenient locale on the eastern edge of Southport's downtown at the corner of Rhett and Nash Streets. The site is also close to a number of other local landmarks, including the Old Smithville Burying Ground and the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport, making it an easy side-trip for any regional visitor.
More information on the jail itself, as well as other ongoing efforts of the Southport Historical Society, can be found online at http://www.southporthistoricalsociety.org/projects/the-old-jail. Volunteers are always welcome for ongoing projects, and special events, which include educational sessions on the jail and beyond, can be found online as well at http://www.southporthistoricalsociety.org/current-news.
The Old Brunswick County Jail is a relatively new landmark, historically speaking, but is nevertheless one of the most acclaimed and most visited attractions along the historic Downtown Southport streets. A gorgeous local structure that's only surpassed by the intricate, hand-scrawled secrets that lay beneath the surface, the Old Brunswick County Jail is sure to peek anyone's curiosity about the long and storied history of this nationally acclaimed and revered coastal community.
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