Historic Brentsville Jail (ca. 1822)
In 1820 the Town of Brentsville was created by the Virginia General Assembly to serve as the new County seat for Prince William County. Part of moving the County seat from Dumfries to Brentsville involved building several public buildings for the function of local governing. One of these buildings the Jail was built in 1822. The Jail would serve Prince William County for the next 71 years. When the County seat was moved to Manassas in 1893 the building served in many capacities. These included a dormitory for a girls’ school a private home and an office space.
Referred to today as the “Brentsville Jail” the building bears witness to the County’s rich history. As part of the Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre the building and its surroundings will always be protected. Even with this preservation of space the Jail is in dire straits. Years of termite powder post beetle and water damage (just to name a few) have taken their toll the structure. In the 1990’s local residents convinced the County to take a more active role in the preservation and restoration of the Jail. The building has become the focus of many local ghost stories and legends. The internationally famous “Ghost Hunters” TV Show featured the building on a show in 2009.
Stabilization and Restoration
Stabilization was completed on the jail in 2013. Dominion Restoration restored the masonry interior and exterior of the structure. They were successful in retaining most of the 1822 brick and foundation stone. When replacement was necessary, matching materials were located and used in the restoration process.
Another aspect of the work was to restore the facade of the Brentsville jail back to its original form and appearance. Alterations made to the building throughout the 20th century were reversed, which included closing in added window openings and doorway. Fortunately, the original jail window grating had been conserved and was reinstalled.
Work is now underway to remove over two feet of soil from the interior of the jail so a new vapor barrier can be installed. The step will further protect the interior of the jail.
While removing the soil, staff and contractors have found many early artifacts. The artifacts are being recovered, cleaned and catalogued. This has slowed the process to restore the interior, but provides the community with a treasure trove of artifacts to give us a glimpse back in time.
Restoration of the interior also includes mill work. New flooring and wall framing will be installed, along with a stairwell typical of that period to provide access to the second floor. To duplicate the original oak planks that secured four "criminal apartments", timber has been milled onsite and hand-forged nails are currently being acquired.
Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the jail through a hands-on educational program. Rooms will be restored and finished to show several periods in the history of the jail. Several rooms will be interpreted to depict confinement for debtors, criminals and the enslaved. Another room will highlight the early 20th century, when the jail was used as a dormitory for students attending the Prince William Normal School. The final room will show its use as a private dwelling after the Second World War. There are plans for a multimedia introduction exhibit in the future.
The Prince William County Historic Preservation Foundation has supported this restoration by raising over $15,000. You can learn more about their efforts at http://www.preservepw.org/
Did you know?
The jail will be one of only a handful of jails in the nation that have been restored to the 1800s. The Brentsville jail will be the only one in the Washington D.C. Metro region.