Globe’s 1910 Territorial Jail reveals history, attracts tourists
A crude message scratched into the concrete walls of a cell is a melancholy reminder of prison life in the old jail. Lest he be forgotten, one prisoner chose to write his story on the walls, “Bob D. in for rape 1964…15 years to go?” He ends it with small sign of hope; a question mark. At the time it was written, the old jail was being condemned as substandard by several federal, state and county groups; the plumbing didn’t work, the ceilings had begun to sag, there was only one working bathroom. The jail was originally built for 35 prisoners but routinely exceeded that number and over-crowding was a problem almost from the day it was built.
“There were inmates who spent many years in the jail,” explains Rick Benning who is a volunteer tour director with the jail. He goes on to explain prison life. Most, he says, would spend time on their cell bunks or in the common areas between the cells. Sometimes they could wander along the outer walls. There was one toilet and sink at the end of each ‘tank’ of cells shared by 28 prisoners. Smoking was not allowed. Prisoners were fed twice a day.
A well-known story about the Chinese businessman who had the contract to deliver food to the prisoners is told over and over. It seems a prisoner once complained about the food he was given and handed the bowl back to Dea Gin Foo, who owned and operated the Sang Tai Restaurant. Dea Gin was a familiar site to locals as he would deliver the prisoners food each day in a little red wagon he would pull up the street to the jail.
Reportedly, he smiled back at the complaining prisoner and said, “You no likee today? You likee tomorrow,” which was undoubtedly true!
Benning goes on to explain that if prisoners were good they were sometimes made trustees and allowed to live on the third floor which included a large open space with actual army cots, instead of steel webbing of most cell bunks. The floor housed 28 trustees, and while the room was not divided with steel bars, it offered very little heating or cooling to regulate the summer heat or winter cold which wafted to the third floor.
The jail, which was built of reinforced poured concrete in 1910 was considered state of the art and first rate at the time. It was a big improvement over the single story jail which it replaced and included three floors to house the criminal elements in all of Gila County. Built to hold several times the prison population of the previous jail, it none-the-less was often filled to capacity during it’s seventy-year tenure as the gatekeeper of civilized society.
The first floor housed one of two cell ‘tanks’ for prisoners as well as the residence of the Sheriff and offices for his support staff. Each tank, as it was called was a concrete and steel room designed with seven cells measuring 8ft x 6ft which housed four inmates each. An upper and lower bunk made of steel webbing was built into either side of the cell with barely 4ft of standing room between them. A single toilet and sink initially included with each cell, was removed in the ‘50s due to vandalism or disrepair and replaced with a common toilet and sink shared by each of the 28 inmates per tank.
The second floor housed a second tank of 28 cells, as well an area with slightly larger cells with only two bunks each for juveniles, women and the elderly. This floor also included a cell within a cell, separated from all the others designed for crazy ones and the especially violent prisoners. Thought to be impenetrable, it was the site of one of the most famous murders in 1910 when a prisoner, accused of killing of two young girls, was shot and killed through the prison bars in the early morning hours while he slept on his cot. The case was never solved.
The third floor led to a catwalk where prisoners were transported to and from the courthouse next door, and included the trustees ‘dorm.’
Benning says he has met hundreds of visitors since he began giving tours of the jail including ones from France, Scotland, Germany and all the provinces of Canada. While some visitors do not speak much English, it is not a problem for Benning. He is not a historian, he explains preferring to rely on the visual experience of the jail to tell the story.” He will have visitors stand inside the cell blocks as he operates the original Pauly system of levers and locks which operate the cell doors. As the doors clang shut they send a shudders to those who find themselves on the wrong side of the bars.
The doors and levers came from the old territorial jail in Yuma which closed just one year before the Gila County jail opened in 1910. Although rusted over and frozen in place during the ensuing years the jail was abandoned, they have since been restored to working order once again. Tom Foster, executive director of Bullion Plaza, who has a penchant for restoration spent months taking the entire system apart, and refurbishing the levers and track to make them once again operational. The hundreds of hours it took to restore the doors are worthwhile when you see the effect on visitors as they tour the jail and get a live demonstration of “lock down.”
“It makes a lasting impression,” Benning smiles.
He is careful to point out the many etchings on the walls in the cell blocks and hallways. Some are so faint you have to look carefully to see the writing. Others stand out as if they were written yesterday. Most are dates and names – reminders, if only to themselves, that someone was there. He points out something he has always found interesting regarding the F-word. There are none. In 70 years of operation, prisoners didn’t cuss on these walls using the F-word.
The last hanging in Globe took place in 1905 when Zachary Booth waved his hat for the last time, pronounced his innocence and was dropped from the gallows. Future executions were later moved to Florence after that and the county jail mostly housed criminals in for rustling, rape, 2nd degree murder and stealing. By the 1970s newspaper accounts were filled with accounts of the deplorable conditions of the county jail and efforts were launched to get public approval to build a new facility which was completed in 1981. The old jail stood vacant and fell into disrepair throughout the ‘90s until Kip Culver Director of Globe’s Main Street program stepped in to preserve the jail as an important part of Globe’s history.
Today, the old Jail is popular with tourists and is an integral part of the historic district and downtown events. Tours are conducted, by Benning and other volunteers, every second Saturday of the month and by appointment. Benning, who lives just blocks from the jail, says he will try to accommodate a request for a tour if he is around. All they need to do is check in with the front desk at the Center and they’ll call to see if he is available.
Writer, photographer. Passionate foodie, lover of good books and storytelling. Lives in Globe. Plays in the historic district. Travels when possible.