With walls made of old stone and ancient-looking parapets, it looks like a medieval fortress. Everything about it radiates strength and power, the kind that can break the most indomitable of wills, and one look at it makes you understand that this building was once every bit as dangerous as it looks today.
This oppressive appearance isn’t merely a façade, no, there was every reason for this anachronistic-looking structure to have been built as intimidating as it is.
For more than one hundred years, this structure was the Williamson County Jail. Behind these imposing walls were held some of the worst of the worst ever captured in the region, from outlaws to murderers to some of the worst serial killers this country has ever seen.
A place of brutality and executions, it was an imposing monolith of Texas justice for a century before its closure. Save for its frighteningly strong shell, it’s the kind of place that should no longer hold any power aside from historical curiosity, but there are those that say it isn’t as empty as it looks.
There are whispers that this relic of Texas judicial history still holds ghosts of the past, some of whom may not be entirely happy for their ends at the hands of the hangman’s noose.
Williamson County Jail History
Law in the developing western frontier of the 19th century was, by necessity, often a case where a show of strength was as necessary as the law itself. It seems likely that this was the kind of thinking that went into the construction of the old Williamson County Jail.
While prisoners of the region had previously been put into a jail facility adjacent to the courthouse, the location was hardly secure and in serious disrepair.
Jailbreaks by hardened outlaws had become a startlingly common occurrence, and after a time the county fathers decided enough was enough. A distinct need for a modern, stable jail facility was met in 1888 when the Williamson County Jail was constructed.
The fourth jail in the county, the Williamson County Jail was designed by prominent Waco architects Dodson & Dudley to reflect the architecture of the French Bastille.
With limestone walls and crenellated parapets, it was specifically designed to look like an impenetrable fortress, the better to prevent future breakouts and instill confidence in the community that it was the correctional facility they needed.
Opening for business in early 1889, the prison soon began taking in the worst of the worst the county had to offer, and over time became home to a few noteworthy prisoners.
The last man hanged in Williamson County was housed at the Williamson County Jail. Tom Young was a cotton chopper who had murdered his niece in 1905, and when the law found him guilty, he was hanged just outside the Williamson County Jail in 1906.
Perhaps the most notable prisoner to have walked through the doors of the Williamson County Jail was the notorious (alleged) serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Convicted of 11 murders (though having boasted of killing thousands more), Lucas went on trial for a murder he’d committed in Williamson County and was found guilty.
Though the judge found in favor of the death penalty for his Williamson County job, the governor later commuted the sentence to life in prison (as with his other convictions) due to shaky evidence and the unreliability of Lucas himself.
Though he would later die in another prison of old age, there are no doubt some in Williamson County who would have wished his final days had been within the walls of Williamson County Jail.
The Williamson County Jail was still in use until 1989, a full century after it had been originally opened, when modern advances in the prison system and its own deteriorated state made it a no longer viable penal facility.
Instead of being left to rot like many similar facilities once abandoned, the old Williamson County Jail was refurbished and made into a local landmark, today housing a number of offices within its restored exterior.
Though it no longer holds the violent souls who once called the prison home, it still maintains that oppressive appearance in the middle of downtown Georgetown, acting as a persistent reminder to the impressive prison that once called the city home.
Whether or not any of the old Williamson County Jail’s more notable inmates still remain is a question that cannot be adequately answered, but ask around and you might hear a tale or two of the jail’s haunted history.
Such telltale trademarks of supernatural encounters as cold spots and disembodied voices or footsteps are not unheard of, as are the sounds of the jail’s old, creaking metal doors being opened and closed.
It is said that once inside, you can occasionally get the feeling of being watched even when completely alone, as if the ever-watchful guards (or perhaps one of the jail’s darker denizens) never left, always watching, always waiting.
Whether or not the jail still bears spirits and specters from its heyday as a Texas prison of some repute, it is still an impressive piece of architecture that is best not missed if you’re in Georgetown.
It’s definitely worth a look as a historical curiosity, and its architecture, while imposing in its own unique way, does have a distinct beauty to it. Be sure to take a picture or two when you’re in the area, though when checking the pictures out, don’t be surprised if you find an unexpected photobomber or two looking back at you…