The Fort Bend County Jail: A Magnificent Historical Monument


The Fort Bend County Jail. Photos courtesy of the Fort Bend County Museum Association.

When visitors drive through downtown Richmond for the first time, they immediately are drawn to a large regal building, with stunning red bricks and white McNeal limestone accents. It is the only building of its kind in the area and has a presence of strength and fortitude. Today, this well-preserved building is the home of the Richmond Police Department. Historically, it was built to keep the community safe as the Fort Bend County Jail.

This Romanesque revival style structure was the third jail built in Fort Bend County. It was constructed in 1897 by L.T. Noyes, Houston contractor and agent for Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, Ohio. The $18,000 contract was to build the jail and included the sheriff’s living quarters. Forty-year bonds at five percent were issued for $20,000 to cover building and furnishing expenses. The jail was fully equipped with iron clad doors. The interior and exterior red clay and mortar walls carried the load of concrete floors. The top floor consisted of two large rooms on either side with double decker cell blocks for prisoners. The center section of the building housed more prison cells and the gallows. Solitary confinement chambers were on the second and third floors.

Prisoners going to the second floor passed through an iron gate before ascending the curved narrow stairway. Instead of bars, iron lattice-work covered the inside of windows and formed cells.

Sheriff C.W. Parnell lived with his family on the first floor. Food was prepared by his wife and passed through a small metal door into the foyer to be distributed to the inmates. The couple’s children were restricted to the ground floor in rooms secured with metal doors. A basement was built with additional cell blocks for prisoner segregation, but regular flooding was a problem, so it was refinished with cement in 1899.

The Fort Bend County Jail served the community until 1955. The building was bought by Lee Reiches for $5,295 and used for low income housing, a Confederate museum and even a haunted house, but it did not have any success.

Ball and chain used on prisoners.

In 1996, the city took possession of the Preston Street Jail building. It was renovated to accommodate the Richmond Police Department. This proved to be the focal point for future downtown restoration projects. This remodeled structure has an addition added to the original building connected by an atrium. On the second floor, a catwalk was incorporated to the new administrative annex creating an atrium effect on the first floor between the original structure and the administrative offices. The renovated area houses detectives, dispatchers, patrol, records and a training room. The front portion of the building is arranged as a museum. Some of the original cells, and the gallows were maintained for their historic importance and are used for detention areas and evidence storage.

About forty employees work in the rooms that once were home to murderers and thieves, so it’s not surprising when strange, unexplained things happen. Psychic mediums and ghost hunters have explored the building to capture orbs in the basement and to observe images of faces on the walls. Workers share stories of moving shadows at night, shuffling of papers and voices in other parts of the building when no one is there. One corner of the upstairs office continually has activity with falling items, peculiar smells and exceptionally cool air.

The City of Richmond has preserved a valuable piece of the past. This resplendent building is useful to the community and captures the essence of the momentous history of Fort Bend County.