Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Texas Willacy County Courthouse still haunted

Like many old buildings, there are stories about how the Willacy County Courthouse might be haunted.
Jessie Garza, who works in the auditor’s office, doesn’t pay much attention to such stories.
“I work for months here late at night, trying to get out reports,” she said. “Sometimes I leave at 1 a.m. I’ve never seen anything.”

Yet she’s heard talk about the long-abandoned jail on the third floor.

“I’ve heard people say they hear chairs being shoved around upstairs,” she said.

County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. notes there is a grand jury room on the third floor that is still in use. Still, there are stories going around.

“I’ve heard people say they see shadows, like someone going down the hallway,” Garza said. “But me, personally, no, I haven’t seen anything like that.”

During a recent tour of the old jail on the third floor, the county judge pointed to a gallows, with a large metal ring on the ceiling where a hangman’s noose was once attached.

Stories vary, Gonzales said. One is that hangings were conducted in front of other prisoners in their cells, he said.

Sheriff Larry Spence said he’s heard the same stories but he could find no record of anyone actually being hanged there.

“I think the trap door for the gallows dropped down into the female bathroom, but it was changed later,” the sheriff said.

An iron spiral staircase was used to move prisoners from the second floor near the courtroom to the jail at the top of the building, Spence said.

Sometimes reluctant prisoners had to be pulled or pushed up to the jail, he said.

The spiral staircase was moved several years ago to the nearby historical center in an old high school, he said.

Gonzales showed where attempts were made to remove sets of iron jail bars to convert the third floor of the courthouse to offices. But it was learned the bars were also structural supports, so that plan was abandoned, he said.

“They were still using this old jail when I was in junior high,” he said.

Spence said the old jail was in use when he first began working as a deputy in 1976.

Willacy County, Texas’ 253rd county, was made from parts of Cameron and Hidalgo counties and once included the area that is now Kenedy County, the Handbook of Texas Online states. Kenedy became the 254th county.

The 1917 courthouse at Sarita, although smaller than the one in Raymondville, was actually the first Willacy County Courthouse, except that a Sarita store was temporarily used as a courthouse prior to that, the handbook states.

Source: Valley Morning Star

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