When the present Trousdale County jail was built in 1958, it was a simple, one-story brick building with living quarters for the sheriff and his family. That was typical of small towns across the South — much like the fictional town of Mayberry with a sheriff like Andy Griffith.
The first sheriff to occupy the new jail was Claude Kerr, who moved in with his wife and five children. It was the job of Claude’s wife, Rosalie, to not only manage a household of children, but she also had to cook for any prisoners in the jail, clean the jail and manage the dispatcher’s job.
A janitor would come in from time to time and there was even a woman to help cook if there was a need.
Small towns and small jails lend themselves to stories, and one that has been handed down has to do with a local fellow who had taken a little too much “liquid refreshment” and was lying in a ditch, having passed out.
The neighbors complained and the sheriff drove across town to investigate.
Sure enough, the fellow was there and the sheriff roused him awake.
There was no deputy helping nor any backup patrol cars, not back then.
But the fellow needed to spend a little time in the “drunk tank” to sleep it off. It was then that the sheriff noticed a distinctive stench coming from the fellow, not to mention the mud and dirt from his time sleeping in the ditch. The sheriff was sure of one thing: he didn’t want this odor and mud to end up in his nice, clean patrol car.
Perplexed for only a moment, the sheriff told the man to stand up and start walking.
“Walking?” the inebriated fellow asked.
“Yes, walking,” he answered and then pointed in the direction of the jail.
So the public was treated to the sight of the poor drunk walking down the street with the sheriff in his car following at a respectable distance, all the way across town to the Hartsville jail.
Another time a resident of Hartsville found an intruder in his garage, sleeping off a night on the town. He called the sheriff to come and arrest the culprit.
The sheriff asked for the man’s address, but the property owner said that the intruder had awakened and was now walking down the middle of Highway 25. But the caller added that the sheriff would have no trouble recognizing the intruder.
“Why’s that?” the sheriff asked.
“Because I poured a bucket of paint on his head!”
Fortunately like quaint little Mayberry, Hartsville never held many prisoners nor many (if any) dangerous criminals.
A report from the state noted that in 1976, the intended capacity of the Trousdale County jail was 12 prisoners with the ability to hold up to 22 in an emergency. But the report added that the average occupancy was a mere three prisoners, and sometimes as few as one!
One could assume that Hartsville was a quiet little town with a very low crime rate. Being the smallest county in the state helped considerably.
Nevertheless, with time crime caught up with even the back roads of Trousdale County and our incarceration rate rose.
It should be noted that violent offenders were sent to the state penitentiary!
A look through our local archives and the books that record the arrests and convictions from the past will show that the biggest crimes in the county were “driving under the influence” and “public intoxication.” Speeding and domestic disturbances were not far behind.
The jail was renovated in 1974 and 24-hour, round-the-clock jailers were hired, enabling the sheriff to live at his own home.
The jail also grew in size, but there was only so much area to expand as the creek took up one side of the property and the old Co-op building parking lot limited growth in another direction. A public road limited the front of the building and the shape of the lot kept expansion to the east to a minimum.
So as our population grew, the jail has become outdated and way too small. Which leads to the current discussions in our county government about building a new larger jail, hopefully one that doesn’t sit on Little Goose Creek.