Jailhouse Rock – from the Library Historical Archives by Nancy Watts

The two-story stone Fergus County jail (now the Fergus County Extension office) was built in 1904 before the current courthouse (built in 1907).

“Notice is hereby given that the board of County commissioners of Fergus County asked for bids for the construction of the stone work for a two-story stone jail building to be built at Lewistown in said county.” (“Fergus County Argus”, March 12, 1902).

“Bids on the proposed building of a county jail… were higher than the commissioners had any power to allow, it was decided to place the question of the erection of a jail before the taxpayers this fall.” (“Fergus County Argus”, April 9, 1902).

“Upon the ballot this fall there is submitted to the voters of Fergus County the question of permitting the County commissioners to expend (not to exceed $20,000) in the building of a county jail in Lewistown. The law provides that not more than $10,000 can be expended for a single purpose by the commissioners without first obtaining the consent of the people ….a new jail was absolutely necessary. The present accommodations are totally inadequate at times and the Sheriff finds great difficulty in taking care of those with whose safekeeping he is entrusted. For women prisoners there is absolutely no accommodation.” (“Fergus County Argus”, Oct 29, 1902).

“The vote on the proposition to build a new jail stood, for, 498, against, 560, an adverse majority of 62. This is to be regretted as a new jail is greatly needed.” (“Fergus County Argus”, Nov 19, 1902).

Nothing was done until 1904 when the plans were revised.

“It was moved, seconded and ordered that the board except the plans and specifications as revised by C. E. Bell, architect, and that the bids of Tubb Bros., of the Montana Hardware Co. and of Frank F. Goss be accepted. Mr. Tubb’s contract calls for completion of the jail by July 15th.” (“Fergus County Argus”, March 23, 1904).

“Ground has been broken for the new jail…” (“Fergus County Argus”, April 20 ,1904).

“Work on the County jail is progressing in a satisfactory manner, the foundation having been completed and a good start made on the side walls. There are nine stone masons at work on the building…” (“Fergus County Argus”, May 18, 1904).

“The County commissioners last week sold the old jail …. to Jefferson Tubb, $75 being the purchase price.” (“Fergus County Argus”, June 15, 1904).

“The old jail is gone and no more will the property owners on the hill be compelled to see the eyesore which for so long has occupied the most conspicuous place on upper Main Street. If there is anyone who is sorry to see the old landmark disappear, he has not been heard of so far… It is said that a Lewistown man has bought the old building and will remodel it for a dwelling house. If this be so, it is hoped that in his dreams he will not see visions of the former occupants of the historic old place… “The lot on which the building stood will be graded and made into a lawn for the courthouse and new jail. Perhaps in the course of time the old courthouse will be blown down or there will be some other fortunate catastrophe occur which will necessitate building a new one…” (“Fergus County Argus”, August 3, 1904).

“Fergus county’s new jail is rapidly nearing completion and the prisoners … were transferred to the new quarters Monday morning…”. The jail will have accommodations for 24 prisoners and will also provide a room for the jailer and an office for the sheriff.” “There will be no fence put up, but the surrounding land will be nicely graded. When the county decides to build a new courthouse it will be placed in front of the new jail on Main Street instead of on the corner of Main Street and 7th Ave as it is now.” (“Fergus County Argus”, August 17, 1904).

On the left side of the courthouse is the new jail
(it is now the Fergus County Extension Office) built in 1904.
The courthouse was built in 1907.

This photo shows the old jail on Main Street. To the right of it is the old courthouse
(built in 1892) on the corner of Main Street and 7th Ave North.
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