Landmarks: Muddy Creek Road at Owensville Road
The Jailer Doesn’t Work Here Anymore
by Vicki Marsh
One in an occasional series documenting the earlier lives of places we pass everyday. Special to www.bayweekly.com, this version includes original oral histories of Galesville citizens.
How many times had I driven by that small unobtrusive building? Why was I drawn to it for 20 some years?
A small, vacant building sits beside High’s convenience store on Muddy Creek Road (Route 468) and Owensville Road (Route 255). Over the years on my travels to Edgewater, it kept calling to me.
A Story Begins
“Really? Have you actually been inside?” I rattled off more questions to my friend before I took a breath. She jumped in with a response.
“I’ve been inside. My husband and I were thinking of opening a coffee shop in the place. We took a tour of the building and I saw the rusty old cell downstairs.”
The old building had once been the local police station with a jail downstairs.
A working barbershop was my first recollection of the building. By the 1990s, the building sat vacant, a small, lonely square on a tiny plot of land. The red and white-stripped barber pole silently called to me I have a story to tell.
Crime and Punishment
Francis Moreland, one of Galesville’s historians, has three-quarters of a century of local knowledge. His family has lived here since 1931. Moreland still owns and runs his own contracting company located on his Montell Farm in Galesville.
The old station has stayed “pretty much the same until recently,” he recalled. “Upstairs was the trial office and the policemen’s office, and downstairs were the cells. A circuit judge would come around and hold trial. My first cousin, Anna Leech (later Anna Carr), was the secretary for the judge.”
In Moreland’s youth, Southern Anne Arundel County was sparsely developed, mostly farms and lots of tobacco. Other than a few robberies, Moreland said, local policemen had plenty of time on their hands. So they’d help the Morelands and other local farmers herd cows from their Galesville farm down past the police station to another farm in Owensville.
“That was way back when I was young,” Moreland said. “Probably in the 1940s.”
About that time, Moreland admitted with a grin, he spent a few hours in the jail cell himself.
“When we were going to grammar school I might have been 12 or 13,” he said. “Three or four boys and myself, we upset the outhouse behind the jail during Halloween. Someone got the police to come down and round us up and put us in the cell just a few hours to teach us a lesson.”
The sheriff and policemen were local men who lived in Shady Side, Deale or Galesville. For a time only two policemen, Captain ‘Doc’ Dixon and Lynn Bussey, were responsible for law enforcement from Route 4 and Wayson’s Corner to Galesville.
Before being in charge of the station, Dixon worked on police boats. He served as a police captain on the Daisy Archer and Old Folly. As an experienced police officer, Dixon probably helped train new recruits over the years.
Other policemen who worked out of the station one time or another were Sam Crandell, Buster Stallings, Lawrence Moreland and Homer Dawson.
Moreland remembered a circuit judge coming to the jailhouse and holding trials. Someone else remembered it differently.
Jean Siegert Trott, 81 and also a life-long resident of Galesville, remembers how things were done before the police station was built.
Trott who wrote the town’s history in her book Galesville, Maryland: The Legend, The Legacy remembers when her father held trials in the living room of the house where she still lives.
Trott explained, “Before the sub-station was built trials were held locally by the justice of the peace here in the southern end of the county.”
The justice of the peace “was my father,” said Trott. “His name was Louis Siegert Jr., and he held court right here.”
Talking to Trott in her house, a family home for 150 years, I asked, “You mean this very room where we are sitting right now?”
“Yes, this very room,” she replied. “It didn’t make any difference if a sheriff or deputy arrested somebody for breaking and entering or whatever. If it happened in the middle of the night, they would come and knock on the door, and that’s when the trial was held.”
After the trial, the sentenced person would be sent up to Ferndale near Baltimore.
Trott remembered the sheriff or a deputy coming to her home with an offender when she was young. Sometimes she would slip down the stairs and sit on the steps and listen to what was happening.
“My dad had a big des,” she indicated the place where a piano now sits “and that’s where he had all his paper work. None of the family was allowed to touch anything on that desk,” said Trott.
When the sheriff arrived in the daytime, before the judge held his trial, Trott and her siblings were sent to the kitchen with their mother or upstairs. In the summer time when it was hot, the trial was held out on the front porch, the same front porch still in use today.
It was a rare treat to sit in that old house and hear firsthand about these times past. I looked out at the front porch where trials were held and imagined Judge Siegert, the sheriff and the accused.
“My dad would sentence them right here; he was the judge and the justice of the peace,” said Trott. “Then the sheriff or whoever brought them here would take them away.” There was no jury. “My dad was the judge. He did the sentencing then. It’s far different now, said Trott.”
Trott explained that after l941 the county officials changed the title justice of the peace to trial magistrate. It was the same job with a different title. That was around the time the new police station was built on Route 2 in Edgewater. Then, trials were held at the new station.
Trott remembered a cousin by the name of Alfonso who was the sheriff a long time ago. She told a story about an arrest Alfonso had made and what happened at her home.
“My sister told me this story. Alfonso was a short little fellow. One day he arrested this guy and brought him here to this very room, and he broke loose and ran for the backdoor. The sheriff pulled a gun on him to make him stop, and they caught him out in the back yard.
“When you stop and think about it, that was a dangerous situation. The whole family was here in the house and in comes the sheriff with a suspect. No one would do that today.” Trott continued.
“Going back to the 1930s and a little later, there wasn’t hardly any crime around here, because the population at that time was sparse and everyone was spread out. Most people I knew were farmers of tobacco. We raised pigs, chicken and had a few cows; everyone practically had a pig or chickens or a cow and a garden. That’s where we got our meat, and vegetables, from our own farms. There weren’t any grocery stores around here then,” said Trott.
Moreland and Trott believed the jail was built in the 1930s or early 1940. I discovered it was earlier.
Frozen Custard and Haircuts
Moreland recalled the businesses that had occupied the old building over the years. After being a police station and jail for Southern Anne Arundel County, the building became a frozen custard stand, a beauty shop and a black barbershop. Moreland remembered a machinist’s shop in the basement beneath the frozen custard shop upstairs.
Trott confirmed the frozen custard. She has fond memories of her father, who loved the milkshakes, taking the family to Zeigler’s Frozen Custard stand on summer evenings.
Briefly the building housed a beauty shop. Then, in 1973, Harvey Tucker opened a barbershop for African Americans, the first and only one in Southern Anne Arundel County. Clients traveled to Galesville from the Eastern Shore, Calvert County, Pasadena, Severna Park and Annapolis for the two decades Tucker ran the shop.
The Next Chapter: Jailhouse Antiques
Today Donald and Jeannine Hedler, from West River, are renovating the small, two-story building, for an antique shop.
Until the Hedlers bought the old building, they had no idea the building had been a jail. Now they’ve added iron bars to the front window to emphasize its history. They’ll keep the remaining cell in the basement.
The Hedlers put a new roof on the building they learned from the deed was built in 1920.
Anne Arundel County bought the land from Rob Owens for the police sub-station. Owens also owned the cinder block company located behind the Dixon’s Service Station at that time. Owens’ concrete blocks were used to build the original building and were incorporated into the revamping of the building for High’s.
Finally I was able to get into the jail, too. Inside, I could see the original cinderblocks peeking through crumbling cement walls soon to be covered over with sheetrock.
Hedler described the building’s interior. She said the rear wall and the front walls showed evidence of larger windows that looked out on Muddy Creek Road and the swampy land behind.
Hedler said she learned that the trial judge sat on the eight-inch high platform still in place. The lower section held families and spectators. Sometimes the crowds were so large people had to stand outside and peer in the windows to see what was happening inside.
I could picture crowds swarming around the jailhouse, like a scene from old Western movies, waiting for the judge to pass judgment. In those days, a judge in town for a sentencing must have been a big attraction.
Rooms both upstairs and downstairs have the remains of a chimney in the corner, probably a wood-burning stove that would have been the main source of heat.
Down the stairs to the final end of my quest, a cell, one cell remained in a darkened corner, rusty with age waiting for me. I reached out and touched the bars on the old rusty door and let me imagination take me away to times past.
Marks left on the on the wall from the other cell can still be seen. Hedler pointed to the area where the cell had been anchored to the walls. An earlier owner had removed the cell sometime in the past.
Downstairs the only evidence of windows anywhere could be seen near the ceiling. These are small windows, about 10 inches high and 30 inches wide, one of them still covered by iron bars. Hedler said that when their renovation is complete the iron bars will be refurnished and left on the windows. The cell will be painted and restored.
The Hedlers made other discoveries during the renovations. Evidence of a fire can be seen in the ceiling of the upstairs and downstairs. It may have come from the machinist’s shop that Moreland remembered. Remnants of brick flooring were found under the cement floor of the basement, indicating the original floor had been brick.
For good reason, and a nod to the past, Hedler is calling her new business Jailhouse Antiques.