The Bill Ellsbury Law Enforcement Center has been fully operational since last fall; however, some local residents have been curious as to what kind of fate the old Blanco County jail may now face. The 119 year old limestone building still sits on the corner across the street from the courthouse in Johnson City like a sentinel guarding his post. Although the facility is no longer housing criminals, the structure is still far from retirement. According to Blanco County Judge Bill Guthrie, the building is currently being used by county and district probation officers.
“We never had plans of doing away with that building,” Judge Guthrie stated. “Our plan all along was to relocate the jail and to move the probation department from the old annex building into the old jail facility.”
Right now the probation officers are currently using what was formerly known as the dispatch area and office space in the building. However the old jail cells are currently empty and are not being used for anything. Local business owners Tim and Patti Elliot have shown some possible interest in purchasing the building from the county.
“We just want to see something good happen to it… with it not being on the city tax rolls, citizens are not getting any of the property tax … if there is a possibility for a retail business to go into it – that not only generates property tax, but sales tax as well,” Mrs. Elliott stated.
The Elliotts have discussed turning the old facility into a type of boutique, a bed and breakfast, or even a fine dining establishment. Judge Guthrie sees it differently. “This is a perfect facility for our probation officers to work out of. If [the county] were to get rid of this building, then we would just need to spend a lot of money on building a new facility. That doesn’t make any sense when this building is more than sufficient for probation. It would just be an added expense to the citizenry to try and create a new location for the probation services,” he said.
Given the type of clientele the probation officers provide services to, utilizing a building that has already been made secure is an added bonus. “There’s quite a few more folks on active probation when you put in district court, felonies, move ins from other areas… their work load is pretty substantial. They need adequate space to work out of,” he added.
In response to the idea of selling the old Blanco County Jail so that it could be added back on to the tax roll, Judge Guthrie pointed out, “if we did that, we would just have to build or purchase a new building for probation to work out of. That new facility would then be removed from the tax roll – so it really wouldn’t make any sense.”
So why didn’t the County simply house the probation officers in the new $6 million Bill Elsbury Law Enforcement Center or the new $2.5 million county annex? Judge Gurthrie said, “You don’t want to mix probation clientele with an active jail...folks who are on probation don’t need to be anywhere near active law enforcement who are conducting on-going investigations. We’ve made great use of a facility that we already own… it didn’t cost us hardly anything at all to change the use… we fixed up the paint, cleaned it up, changed one interior wall and that was it… We did this all in house and it probably cost around $2,500 … and you’re not going to be able to build a new building, or purchase one for that cost.”
Regarding the portion of the building that is the actual jail, there have been a number of recommendations on what to do with it ranging from storage space for county records to turning it into a museum.
“We’re not currently using it as storage space,” the Judge said. “But it’s certainly a possibility down the road.” On the surface, the idea of turning the jail portion of the building into a museum sounds great. That’s until folks start really investigating what all is involved: financial cost, staff, volunteers, upkeep and maintenance, etc. Funding for such a project would be rather difficult to come across.
The Perry Museum in Johnson City is one example of what happens to a facility when resources are unavailable: it falls into disrepair. The museum is the former home of Captain Cicero Rufus Perry, an early Texas Ranger during the Republic years and afterwards. Years of neglect and a lack of resources have allowed the building to fall apart. It would appear that the county’s decision to continue the use of the Old Blanco County Jail, just in a different capacity – may be the best way to preserve the historical structure. Judge Guthrie stated that anyone that has concerns with the issue can always contact their local commissioner and let them know. For now, it seems, the Old Blanco County Jail will continue to do what it’s done for 119 years: serve the county.