By the mid-1880s, the population of Paso Robles had increased to a level where a dedicated building to house criminals was needed. On September 20, 1887, Paso Robles Leaderran a story about a Saturday-night drunken brawl where weapons were drawn but no shots were fired. Those involved were locked up in a boxcar but they set it on fire and escaped.
Two years later another article was printed that basically stated the town constable would not arrest drunks because there was no place to put them; a jail was sorely needed. Criminals had to be taken to San Miguel or Templeton. Through various donations of material and labor, a 2-cell jail was built that faced east near 12th Street, just east of the railroad tracks. Each cell had a ball and chain. The doors were wooden with one-inch diameter ventilation holes and the hinges and clasps were forged by hand. No basic services of any kind seem to have been included. In June 1889, the jail was finished and remained in use until 1914.
Even though constructed "strong enough to hold an elephant, " the roof eventually cracked, the building fell into disarray and was finally torn down in 1965. Somehow, the left door was saved and equally amazing, remained safe for all these years, as well as an original ball and chain.
The 2009 Museum Board of Directors elected to recreate, as near as possible, the old jail using the door and a few old photographs as starting points. In March, Mr. Will Webster donated $6000 to launch the project. The jail's design was slightly modified to allow visitors more access. The overall size of 10'x14' with completely separate cells is almost perfect. While the original jail was supposed to have 2 windows - each 8"x10" - photographs only show one. For easier viewing, this jail has 2 larger windows - one on each side, instead of on the rear wall. Similarly, there was no electricity in the original jail but for safety, a small light is inside each cell. Original bricks were handmade, most likely at a brick factory where Blake's Hardware is now, at 1701 Riverside Avenue. Over 20 or more brick samples were evaluated before deciding on "period-looking" bricks made in W. Jordan, Utah. Wood to make the second door, doorjamb and roof beams is approximately 100 years old and came from the Hodel family ranch in southern Monterey County. More than 50 individuals, volunteers and local businesses raised $16,000 in cash and in-kind donations and provided the labor for this project.
Ask a museum docent to show you the jail exhibit inside the building.