Chillicothe Ghost Walk: Old County Jail

My first stop on this year’s Chillicothe Ghost Walk was the Ross County Archives which was originally the county jail. It sits next to the Ross County Courthouse in downtown Chillicothe.

It was built in 1878 to serve as the jail and the Sheriff’s residence as was common practice back in the day. The jail held sixteen cells for men, one for women and one for the mentally ill. The building was used as the county jail until 1989. There are filing cabinets and boxes everywhere you look.

The tour here was great. It began outside with a guide who told us about the property and about events that took place on this site and what downtown Chillicothe looked like in the nineteenth century. We then proceeded into the basement where we went inside what they called the dungeon – a windowless cell with a tremendously heavy door.

Here we heard about Perry Bowsher, the jail’s first prisoner. He was executed by public hanging in 1878 after a lifetime of crime that culminated in the double murder of an elderly couple. He killed them both, made himself a sandwich and then set the house on fire before fleeing.

The public gathered to see him hanged. Then they put him in a casket which they propped up for everyone to walk past and view his corpse for a number of days. Afterwards they cut off his head to autopsy his brain and determine if he was mentally ill.

They have a picture of his skull along with other images and stories from the day to help illustrate.

It was all quite macabre.

It was also sad. He was young- in his early twenties- and had been in trouble for his entire life. He had actually escaped from the Ridges, the Insane Asylum in Athens. In modern times he likely would have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had a chance at a non-violent life. Those people he killed and others he hurt may not have suffered or been lost.

After we learned about Mr. Bowsher, we went through the first and second floors to tour what was once the sheriff’s home and the second story jail space. I didn’t see a ghost here or experience anything weird but it was a terrific peek into a world I had not seen before.

It occurred to me that my introverted self would not do well in jail so I better keep walking the straight and narrow!

Click here to read about my visit at the Masonic Temple during this event.

11 thoughts on “Chillicothe Ghost Walk: Old County Jail

  1. I’d love a tour like that! I recall some other places I’ve been on my travels where the jail was also the sheriff’s residence. I think one was in St. Clairesville in Belmont County. I think they said they had the first female sheriff in Ohio.

    One of my past blog posts “Justice for Mrs. Loftus” has a connection to the asylum in Athens. I’ve written a longer article to be published later this year in Idaho. Laura Loftus, who murdered her husband, was the daughter and niece of two inmates there. Both her mom and uncle died in the asylum and are buried in the Ridges Cemetery. One of her sisters was accused of trying to murder her husband, too. That was in Portsmouth. Allegedly she attacked him with an ax when he started carving a watermelon without her permission.

    • Oh my gosh!!! What a tale! That sounds like the plot of a page turning thriller. I will look forward to reading that.

      That Asylum has quite a history. They occasionally offer a grounds tour which is really interesting and that you would enjoy. The administrative building is now an art gallery but that’s about as far as you can legally venture into the buildings.

      As for Belmont County, they need to stop telling that story about their Sheriff. You see, they had a female sheriff in the seventies who they proclaimed to be Ohio’s first. She even went in Carson. They didn’t do their research. Ohio’s first female sheriff was a woman named Maude Collins who was sheriff in my county before that woman was even born. Sheriff Maude was appointed sheriff after the death of her husband Sheriff Fletcher Collins in 1925. He was killed in the line of duty. She finished his term and went on to beat men in the primary and the general election to serve a term of her own.

      She made national news when she solved a grizzly murder and when she was the first woman to deliver a prisoner to the Ohio Penitentiary.

      I helped write a proposal for an Ohio Historical Society Marker two years ago and got to do some research on her. She was a fascinating character whose story I should tell here one of these days. Here’s someone else’s story about her.

      It was common practice (at least in Ohio) for the Sheriff’s home and jail to be in the same building. These jails were typically built to resemble beautiful homes at least in the outside and in the residential part of the building. If the Sheriff was married his wife would serve as Jail Matron, cooking and cleaning for the prisoners. Sheriff Maude was the Jail Matron when her husband was living.

      And I don’t mean to diminish the accomplishments of the Belmont County woman. Clearly, it wasn’t easy when she was doing it either but their claim to fame is simply false.

      • Thanks for sharing that link! Fascinating story, really, about both women. I was going to have a career in law enforcement (that’s the degree I got at the Univ. of Cincinnati), but I am really not cut out for that kind of work.

      • Interesting! I assumed that you had studied history or something related. Law enforcement is a fascinating field but I wouldn’t last a day.

        Sheriff Maude is one of my own personal heroes so I’m always glad to share her story with others!

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