The St. Augustine Old Jail attraction features professional actors retelling visitors about the history of the jail, artifacts such as a collection of guns used in crimes in St. Augustine and a guided tour of the historic jail and its gallows.
Built in 1891, the building is a two and a half story Romanesque-Revival style building on San Marco Avenue. The construction of the building was paid for by local businessman Henry Flagler. It is one of the few remaining jails in St. Augustine that date back to the 19th century.
Flagler offered to pay for the construction of the jail because the existing jail at the time was located on Cordova Street across from Flager’s hotel the Ponce de Leon.
In October of 1889, a grand jury described the jail there as a local nuisance so Flagler offered the county funding to construct the jail in a different location.
In June of 1890, the city accepted Flagler’s offer and purchased a parcel of land in northern St. Augustine. Construction started on the jail in August of 1890 and was completed the following year. Flagler paid $10,000 for the construction and $2,500 for the land. Flagler also had the old jail demolished and built the Bacchus Club in its place.
Flagler also funded two other public buildings in St. Augustine around this time: St. Augustine City Hall and the St John’s County Courthouse but the Old Jail is the only one of these buildings still standing.
The jail was designed and built by the Pauly Jail Building and Manufacturing Company. It is constructed out of brick with a stucco exterior and has a tower that adds an additional story and a half to the building.
The roof of the building is a hip roof covered in metal sheeting with an octagonal cupola and three gabled pavilions on the north, east and west sides of the building.
The jail consists of a square jail wing on the north side of the building and a rectangular residential wing on the south side.
The jail wing contains a kitchen with an elevator, cells on the first floor with barred windows and a second floor with two tiers of cells. The upper tier has riveted metal floors and a corrugated metal ceiling. The cells are surrounded by a walkway.
The residential wing consists of two rooms one each side of the first two floors. The first floor was used as office space and the second served as the jailer’s living quarters. The plaster walls and pine flooring are original.
The jail also has a gallows area where at least eight documented hangings took place when the jail was still in use.
The jail closed down in 1953, when a new jail was built north of the city, and the county sold the old jail building to H.L. McDaniel, who developed it into the Authentic Old Jail tourist attraction. The attraction is currently owned by Historic Tours of America company.
On August 27, 1997, the old jail was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Ever since the jail opened to the public, there have been rumors that the building is haunted. Visitors report being grabbed or touched and employees have reported seeing ghostly apparitions in the building.
In January of 2020, the jail was even featured on an episode of the Travel Channel’s ghost hunting show Kindred Spirits.
Gardner, Sheldon and Wade Tatangelo, Tom Szaroleta, Andrew Atkins, Jimmy Geurts and Dave Osbourn. “Florida’s most haunted: These spooky places showcase the dark side of the Sunshine State.” St. Augustine Record, 9 Oct. 2021, staugustine.com/story/lifestyle/travel/2021/10/08/most-haunted-places-florida-halloween-spooky-lighthouses-highways-theaters-restaurants-parks/8261722002/
Jones, Colleen. “St. Augustine’s Old Jail Subject of new episodes of Travel Show ‘Kindred Spirits.’” St. Augustine Record, 23 Jan. 2020, staugustine.com/story/news/2020/01/23/st-augustines-old-jail-subject-of-new-episode-of-travel-channel-show-kindred-spirits/1843533007/