Kewaunee County Historical Society
About Kewaunee County Historical Society
What's to see and learn about at the KCHS History Center?
We have many historical pictures and items about Kewaunee County on display.
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The mission of the Kewaunee County Historical Society is to collect and preserve the history of Kewaunee County.
The Sheriff's Residence and Jail (now the Kewaunee County Jail Museum, since 1970) was the Justice Center for Kewaunee County from 1877 until 1969. The Sheriff and his family lived in the residence and the Sheriff managed the Jail/Justice Center. The sheriff's wife was required to cook and prepare the meals for the prisoners.
Kewaunee County Historical Society
Centennial Year 1921 – 2021
Museum Golden Jubilee Year
1970 - 2020
Sheriff’s Residence and
A Self-Guided Tour
Jail Museum Building History:
This building was constructed in 1876 at a cost of $5595.00. The Sheriff’s residence was completed in 1877. The contract for building the jail was given on low bid to John Janda of Kewaunee, for a bid of $5,595.00. He sublet the mason work to Russe of Manitowoc and Iron work to Hornbach and Wagner of Milwaukee. It was used until 1969, when the new Justice Center was opened. The “Old Jail” consisted of the County Jail, Sheriff’s Office and living quarters for the sheriff and his family. At that time there was no running water or electric lights. Heating was provided from several small coal or wood stoves. Each room had its own Chimney. The county board originally voted 12 to 7 to tear down the old jail building in 1969. This building was saved by a non-binding referendum vote to be used as a County Museum, which opened in 1970. The vote was 2,773 yes vs. 955 no. The dungeon type 5 x 6 cells designed in 1876 are the key feature of this structure, which is now on the National Historic Register of Historic Buildings. There are original artifacts found in the living room and bedroom. The Museum opened in 1970 for its very first season and continues to the present as the county’s harbinger of its history.
Thirty-nine sheriffs lived and served in the office of sheriff during the jail’s history from 1877 to 1969. Framed photos of many of these law enforcement people are on display in the Sherriff’s Office, which now serves as the welcoming center.
Additional information about the Museum was researched in the Kewaunee Enterprise Newspapers and is chronicled as follows:
1.July 28, 1874 – Petition for new jail and sheriff’s residence 2.December 29, 1874 – Report given on old jail “unfit for humans or dogs.” 3.November 13, 1875 – County Board authorizes bids for brick jail and sheriff’s residence - $50 being offered for sketch of new jail. 4.March 4, 1876 – Sketches submitted by the following for new jail– Stripplemen & Ender of Chicago, Randall & Millard of Chicago, C.W. Kellogg & D.M. Barteau both of Green Bay, F. Weinbagen & H. Messmer of Milwaukee, Langguthe & Colinski of Milwaukee, William Walers of Oshkosh – six other firms responded-Sketch of William Waters accepted. 5.May 27, 1876 – John Janda of Kewaunee submits low bid at $5,595. Mason work goes to Mr. Russo of Manitowoc Iron work to Hornbach & Wagner of Milwaukee for $2,300. 6.September 13, 1876 – County Board authorizes cistern to be built for jail – Water for jail to come from courthouse.
Prison Escapes: Besides the prisoner who used the leg of the bath tub to disable the jailor, there were other attempts to escape from this jail center. A brass key, made from a water faucet, was found in one of the portholes, very likely to be used as an escape tool.
A twenty year old Nebraska man, serving 90 days for theft charges, used a toothbrush to open the main door of the bull pen. The man’s liberty was short. He was picked up in Green Bay for stealing Green Bay Packer Player, Max McGee’s car.
Original Jail: The first Kewaunee County Jail in 1862 was set on fire by Joseph Bushey, and inmate who perished in the flames and is still buried on these grounds. He was arrested for stealing clothes off of people’s clotheslines in Kewaunee.
County Board Report: August 1876 – “Work is progressing satisfactorily. When complete it will cost the County $5,595.00, $4,000.00 for the jail part, the single item of iron construction costing $2,300.00 The plan adopted was selected by the County Board from among many, as the best adopted to their judgment, to meet the requirements for a generation to come. When completed the building will be neat, durable, safe, well ventilated and arranged, ample for the purpose for which it is being constructed for very many years to come, and cheap at the contract price. Such a building, besides is much needed in this County.”
Joseph Wery became the first Kewaunee County Sheriff to serve in what is today the Museum. He and his family moved into the new building in January of 1877, which was completed in 1876. Sheriff Wery served only one two-year term. Joseph Horak was the thirty-ninth and last sheriff to serve in what today is known as the Sheriff's Residence and Jail Museum. Sheriff Horak had the honor of transitioning the Office of Sheriff to the new Justice Center was opened on Juneau Street in 1969.
The photograph of Edward Goetsch and Cifford Hersfield on their motorcycles is also unique, because they were the original county patrol officers for the entire county. They are being recognized by the then sheriff, Walter Wessely.