While Jackson County fights over the best solution for its current, decrepit jail, historic preservationists dream of turning the historic Andrew jail into somewhere people want to stay.
Renovating the historic structure into lodging — a “bed and breakfast” without the breakfast — is still a far-off dream. First, the Jackson County Historic Preservation Commission is chasing a grant that would pay a preservation architect to plan how the building could be saved and used.
A feasibility study would cost almost $10,000, but that would result in a more “distinct” plan that would satisfy the state, according to Jackson County Assessor Lee Karabin, who is also a member of the commission.
“The state preservation office likes to not just preserve a building, but see it in use and bring it back to life,” she said.
Besides lodging, the building could be used as a museum, for haunted houses, and for increasingly-popular ghost tours. Jackson County Conservation has hosted ghost tours there as a fundraiser in recent years.
Karabin said the city of Andrew, which owns the historic jail, can pay the 40 percent local match required for the planning grant, but that would use up their budget for the building. She thinks the project might be a good fit for a future $100,000 Community Catalyst historic rehab grant. Forty percent of those grants are reserved for communities under 1,500 people.
In January, Preservation Iowa named the Andrew Jail one of 13 “most endangered properties.” Built in 1871 of local limestone, the building is a remnant of the years when Jackson County communities vied over which would be the county seat. It was used as a jail, then as a residence and museum. It still contains cells, the sheriff’s quarters, a stone-walled exercise yard and prisoners’ drawings in the women’s quarters.
Few people want to stay in a real jail, but refurbished jails have a small niche in lodging. Across the river in Galena, Ill., the Jail Hill Inn opened in 2015 in the old county jail, with rooms priced at more than $300. The 1870 Elkader JailHouse Inn has three suites and a common space in the cell block. The Old Jail & Firehouse Guest Suite is in downtown McGregor.
Karabin and Don Wentworth of the Jackson County Historic Preservation Commission spoke to county supervisors Aug. 21, and officials couldn’t resist a few jabs comparing Jackson County’s current and historic jail.
“My thought is it’s in about as good a shape as this one over here, which doesn’t speak well for either,” said Jackson County supervisor Larry McDevitt.