Built in 1901, the old jail was home to many of Newton County’s criminals until 1983 — and according to some, one person was even hung there. And although the jail is currently gutted, the ghosts of those who once called the cells home, still wander the crumbling hallways.
The old jail was once home to Newton County Sheriff’s Department’s Criminal Investigations Division and according to NCSO Captain Marty Roberts, it was then that many noticed the strange happenings in the building.
"You’d hear things moving and noises upstairs when you were the only one in the building," he said. "If you went upstairs you’d never find anyone there."Things would also be moved around. If an investigator left something on one table and left, when they returned it would often be moved to another location. In their offices upstairs there were televisions and according to Roberts they would be turned on when people returned to the jail after being gone. Others report that the channels on the televisions would change on their own as well. Sheriff Ezell Brown said that they would sometimes hear a toilet flush, but when you looked there wasn’t anyone in the bathroom or anywhere else in the building.
"I don’t want to say we were scared, but there were definitely things that would happen in the building that would spook you," said Roberts. "The hairs on the back of your neck would certainly stand up sometimes and you’d feel like you were being watched."
One member of law enforcement, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the bulk of the noise originated from the area where the gallows was located. The trap door was welded shut when a deputy and prisoner fell through it while fighting in the jail’s later years, but the hardware that held the gallows is still there as is the gallows. Though they are no longer standing, according to a law enforcement officer, rattling and creaking can be heard in the room and, on many occasions, he has seen the translucent figure of the man who was hanged.
Roberts said that only one person was hung at the jail, and that it bothered the man who was sheriff at the time so much he took a two-week vacation to recuperate and swore there would never be another hanging in the jail. Although Roberts couldn’t recall the name of the man who met his death in the gallows of the old jail, the law enforcement officer said the man’s crime was murder.
Along with one hanging, several people died of natural causes in the jail as well. Many of them, according to the law enforcement officer, had felt they were treated unfairly, and had vowed revenge on those who jailed them.
Roberts said that at times the holding cells in the jail would have upwards of 50 people at one time in rooms that were made to hold only about 20.
"And you would be pressed to get 20 in there comfortably," he said.
But haunted or not, it is the unique architecture and history of the old jail that has made it an ideal place for a history museum and the preservation and restoration work is slated to begin at the first of the year.
According to Cheryl Delk, Newton County Special Projects Coordinator, "The history center will serve as a hub for information concerning other historic sites in the county, a meeting place for related programs and events, field trip destination for schools and a space for temporary and permanent exhibits relative to the county and its history. The jail is located on a sight line north of the historic courthouse and a part of the Covington Historic District. It’s adjacency to downtown and the government complex makes it a ‘walkable’ destination for tourists and citizens alike. History tourism is one of the most popular in Georgia."
Even if the dead still roam about, dragging their chains, the old jail will soon have more than ghostly footsteps making their way through the historical hallways and rusted cells of the century-old jail.