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Fairfax Depot group saves old jail from demolition

Retiree donates labor

October 4, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

FAIRFAX - Just before the Fairfax City Council was about to demolish a 107-year-old city jail and nearby pump house several years ago, the Fairfax Depot Historical Preservation Association convinced councilors to allow the group to restore and lease the properties for 99 years.

Jeff Haala of Fairfax, a retired trucker, donated many, many hours of work to restore the jail, which was constructed in 1905.

The jail will be open to the public from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12 during an open house event at the Fairfax Depot, Police and Fire departments.

Article Photos

Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Jeff Haala of Fairfax stands outside the city jail he recently restored. The jail will be open from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12, during a Fairfax Police and Fire Department open house. The jail was built of Miracle Cement Building Blocks from Fairfax Miracle Building Block Company by Wm. Spies & Son.

Miracle Cement Building Blocks, manufactured by a Fairfax company, were used in the construction of the 20x22-foot, three-room jail. It was used until the 1950s when an East Main Street municipal building was constructed. Jail cells were put in the basement of that building, under the liquor store.

According to a Fairfax Standard article, the first jail in Fairfax was built in 1888 in the same location as the 1905 edition. It stood for about nine years when it was destroyed by fire.

A 1906 edition of the Fairfax Standard described the jail as a "fire-proof, up-to-date bastille."

Sylvester "Buddy" Gerardy of Fairfax, who worked for the City of Fairfax for 25 years, recalled the role the jail played during the 1930s.

"The Depot park was full of hobos who came in on freight trains," Gerardy said. "I remember one of them got arrested after stealing at the grocery store and ended up in jail."

When Haala worked on the jail, a number of long-time Fairfax residents stopped to talk with him and reminisce a about their memories.

"A number of them told me they recalled looking into the barred jail windows on Saturday and Sunday morning to see if they could recognize anyone," Haala said.

Fairfax police officers noted tying up inebriated prisoners with rope so they wouldn't hurt themselves, breaking up fights in downtown bars and dragging prisoners to the jail. In winter months, kindling and coal was moved from City Hall to the jail to make it habitable in cold weather, according to Fairfax Standard articles.

With no electrical power to the jail, kerosene lanterns were used for light at night.

More recently, the jail was used for storage of city-owned Christmas street decorations, before the city council condemned it, Haala said.

"The building was really stripped with fallen plaster when I began working on it," Haala said. "I taught myself how to plaster walls. I had to make some things like lock stops, myself."

Haala completely replastered and repainted the jail interior. The Miracle block exterior is original.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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