The new jail and sheriff’s residence just completed is one of the handsomest ornaments in an architectural way among the public buildings in this city.—Excerpt from the Evansville Journal Dec. 24, 1880
Evansville-based law firm Woods and Woods relocated in November 2004 to the Vanderburgh County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. An exquisite example of gothic revival architecture, the structure was built in 1890 and was welcomed with much acclaim and publicity. It was the first building of its kind in Evansville—not only was it visually striking; it also served as a functional place to house accused criminals.
The Old Jail, as well as the Old Courthouse situated across the street, was designed by European-trained architect Henry A. Wolters in the late 19th century. Inspired by European architecture, Wolters is said to have modeled the Old Jail after the Castle of Lichtenstein in Germany. Its fortress-like presence was meant to be foreboding and deter people from committing crimes.
The building was remodeled in 1937 and then abandoned by Vanderburgh County in 1969 when the current jail was opened in the Civic Center. The Conrad Baker Foundation, a historic preservation society, then began restoring the building to use for other purposes, such as office space, but were careful to ensure that the building’s rich history would remain intact.
“Through the years, the Old Jail has received minor repairs and updates, a few new coats of paint, and thousands of visitors, but it hasn’t lost its intrigue,” explains Mike Woods, a lawyer and founder of Woods and Woods. “Preserving this history is important because it allows community members to reflect on the past—to learn from and appreciate those who came before us.”
The Old Jail, located at 208 N.W. Fourth Street in downtown Evansville, is owned by Vanderburgh County, but Woods and Woods won the right to lease the building form the Old Courthouse Foundation until 2067.