Jail to Serve as Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s Myths and Legends Scenic Byway
DERIDDER, La. – Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser joined the Beauregard, Allen, and Vernon Parish Tourist Commissions to cut the ribbon officially opening the newly renovated Gothic Jail in DeRidder. Originally built in 1914, the jail was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and then closed the next year when it was deemed inhabitable. Renovations to the Gothic Jail will allow visitors a glimpse into the day-to-day running of the jail, as well as a vision of what living in the jail was like for the jailer and his family. The first floor, or the jailers’ quarters, and the second floor jail cells will be available for tours. The third floor is closed off and will possibly be opened in the future, pending Fire Marshal approval.
“This jail is a unique piece of Louisiana history and will serve as a crown jewel on the 180-mile Louisiana Myths and Legends Scenic Byway,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. “With the renovations and additions to the Beauregard Parish Courthouse, these opulent structures that were so proudly built and protected by the people of Beauregard Parish will now stand for future generations to admire.”
“Our ultimate goal is to have the jail serve as an Interpretive Center for the Myths and Legends Byway,” said Lori Darbonne, Beauregard Parish Tourist Commission Executive Director. “Here, visitors will have the opportunity to learn of some of the legends and lore of Louisiana and its once known Neutral Strip. The Myths and Legends Byway’s recent opening sets the precedence for a great opportunity for tourism in the region of west Louisiana.”
“The State of Louisiana Byway Program is one of the best programs ever created for rural tourism. This program leads people to back roads Louisiana and gives rural tourism centers the opportunity to promote and advertise properties we could otherwise not do,” said Adagria Haddock, Allen Parish Tourist Commission Executive Director. “The Myths and Legends Byway was built on using the stories, pictures, and culture of a time when land pirates and outlaws ran the area known as No Man’s Land. The mysteries, intrigue and stories of the Gothic Jail made this a tailor-made icon for our Byway.The opening of the Gothic Jail gives credence to the Myths and Legends Byway as truly a unique area in Louisiana history.”
“The development of The Myths and Legends Byway is perhaps the most significant improvement for the tourism industry in western Louisiana since the creation of tourism commissions in the 1970’s. Using state highways as an attraction themselves is a brilliant way to guide visitors throughout the state, said John Crook, Vernon Parish Tourist Commission Executive Director. “The mysterious Gothic Jail is truly a Louisiana icon and is the perfect logo for the old No Man’s Land region of western Louisiana!”
Colonel William Louis Stevens served as the original architect for construction of the jail and adjacent parish courthouse in 1914 at a cost of $168,000 for both buildings. In 1922, Mechanics Illustrated Magazine described the jail as a “grand mansion.” In the 1950’s the Gothic Jail became known as the “Hanging Jail” when a song of the same name was written about the execution of two men found guilty of the August 1926 robbery and murder of a taxi driver. Temporary gallows were built at the top of the spiral staircase in the center of the jail, and the men were hanged on the afternoon of March 9, 1928.
The jail is the only known penal institution in the country to be constructed in the “Collegiate Gothic” design of the 20th century having shallow arches, dormer windows, and a single tower serving as an exclamation. The original design of the jail was done with the idea a prison should be a house of correction rather than a dungeon of punishment. Each jail cell included a comfortable bed, bath and toilet, and a window to allow prisoners fresh air and a view of the outside world. The jail featured a tunnel leading from the building to the adjacent courthouse and used to transport inmates during trial to avoid contact with the public. The Beauregard Parish Gothic Jail’s reputation for near perfect sanitation and health conditions were unheard of for a prison of its time.
“The Gothic Jail serves as a cultural artifact for Louisiana and our area. The opportunity to utilize the jail for historical tours is now a reality long awaited,” said Darbonne.
Tours are open to the public Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The cost is $5 per adult and $3 per student or child. Group tours are available and can be arranged through the Beauregard Tourist Commission.
The $152,000 renovation to the Beauregard Gothic Jail was funded through a 2010 Capital Outlay grant for asbestos and lead abatement.
For more information on the Beauregard Parish Gothic Jail, please visit www.beauregardtourism.com.
For more information on the Myths and Legends Scenic Byway, please visit www.louisianabyways.com/byway/myths-and-legends-byway.