Volunteers manning the unique historical archives housed in the 1891 Panola County Jail are seeing light where they should not be seeing light.
That is just one clue the grand ol’ dame of Panola County historical sites is aging — not so gracefully. Her bones are strong, and with proper maintenance and care the historic jail should be around for another 132 years. As the site of many of the county’s links to the past, taking care of the jail is important.
Nancy Gibbs, president of the Panola County Historical and Genealogical Association, said the board recently held an emergency meeting to discuss the issues. The group plans to kick off a letter writing campaign to solicit contributions.
“We’ve got this building taped together,” she said. The PCHGA has hundreds of donated items, from letters and photographs to historic maps, covering the history Panola County and many of its families.
But the wooden windows and doors to the structure are rotting away, leaving gaps where air and water are leaking in and out, according to Geneva LaGrone, volunteer and vice president of the association.
“You can see daylight and when it’s raining, water comes in,” she said pointing to a door that is warped to the point of allowing light and outside air in. “We’re losing air,” she said of heating the building in the winter and air conditioning in the summer months.
The former jail has security bars on the windows so that break-ins are not a major concern. But the deteriorating condition of the windows and doors is.
“The problem is we can’t just go out and hire a carpenter,” LaGrone said. The structure has state and national historical designations, which come with strict rules on maintaining and making repairs to the historic integrity of the 1891 jail.
When the caretakers of the building checked into options for making the necessary repairs prior to the COVID pandemic, they were given a quote of about $158,000. LaGrone said the firm taking on the job has to be approved by the state historical commission.
“You have to go back with the same wood” used that is being replaced, even through the wood has been painted over. In this case, replacing the windows and doors requires using cypress to replace the rotting windows.
“They’re all throughout the building,” LaGrone said of the windows with issues. “It’s just dragging on and needs to be done. If not, we’re going to be having glass panes falling out.
The last major repairs to the old jail included roof replacement work and repairing of brick and mortar. Part of the roof repairs were due to storm damage with insurance covering a portion of the cost of that work, she said.
LaGrone said the all-volunteer organization has raised about $118,000 of the funds needed for the repair. That sum includes past donations over recent years along with about $12,000 from a community garage sale.
The potential contractor has required the PCHGA to have the money in the bank when the project starts.
“He won’t take partial payments, LaGrone said. “We have people who have donated in the past wanting to know why the repairs have not been made. That’s why, because we need to have all the money before the work starts.”
The immediate goal is to have the needed funds raised within the next few months so the work can be done during the summer months.
“We’re seeking help from local businesses and people, anyone who can help,” LaGrone said. There is also a need for volunteers to help chronicle the county’s history, she said.
The museum and library is normally open Wednesday and Saturday, as long as volunteers are available, she said.
Tax deductible donations may be sent to: Panola County Historical and Genealogical Association, 213 N. Shelby St., Carthage TX 75633.