Going to jail may not come immediately to mind when considering where you want to travel, but the idea of visiting the old jail in Hendricks County was the impetus for our visit to Danville, Indiana.
I'd read about tours of this historic jail and sheriff's residence, and being a fan of true crime stories, the idea that the old Hendricks County Jail may have once played host to the infamous Charles Manson certainly caught my interest.
This jail, the third one in Hendricks County's history, is in the basement of a home built as a residence for the sheriff and his family.
The French-influenced architectural style, popular between 1865 and 1880, included details like the rectangular tower and steep mansard roof on the home in Danville.
The home became the first building in Danville listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Today the building is home to the Hendricks County Historical Society's Museum.
The museum showcases many artifacts with an obvious pride in the local history, culture and those who made Danville what it is today.
Exhibits spotlighting Hendricks County history include a collection of Central Normal College artifacts detailing its indelible imprint on life in Danville over the years. The museum's military room honors veterans of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War and other conflicts by showcasing items like artifacts of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Civil War uniform of Col. Abel Streight, who escaped from a Southern prison camp and made his way home to Danville.
The museum also features rooms furnished to recall the lives of those who once lived there.
Bedrooms on the second floor include a children's room with toys from the early 1900s.
A parlor features a fireplace original to the home, along with early 1900s furniture and amusements like a Victrola, pump organ, spinning wheel and a stereoscopic viewer.
Kitchen displays feature artifacts like a crank telephone, wood-fueled cook stove and metal bathtub from the early 1900s, as well as an old record player, vintage dinnerware and laminate-topped tables from the 1940s and 1950s.
The sheriff's family cooked and ate in the cheery kitchen upstairs, while jail prisoners dined below on meals prepared in the same kitchen, usually by the sheriff's wife.
It's just a short trip out of the kitchen and down the stairs into the jail, which gives off a decidedly different vibe than the homey quarters upstairs.
The jail's two sections include an area for female prisoners and a section for male prisoners.
The women's section had two cells, while the men's section had four cells. The men's cells had two bunks in each of them, with wall brackets for mounting two more bunks above those bunks.
Early prisoners bathed in a metal tub, the jail added showers in both the women's and men's quarters with the installation of plumbing in the building.
The old jail housed prisoners until 1974, when Hendricks County Jail built its present jail.
The jail is pretty spooky, but the scariest thing about the place to me is the thought that one of America's most notorious criminals might have spent time behind bars there.
The museum and jail is open to visitors 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday, or by appointment. The museum closes each January and February for continuing restoration work on the home's interior.
Want to learn more about this area? Check out Danville (Images of America) by Jeffrey K. Baldwin and the Hendricks County Historical Museum, Plainfield (Images of America) by Reann Lydick Poray and the soon-to-be-released Hendricks County (Images of America) by Gail M. Tharp and Phyllis West Parsons.
So, what about Charlie Manson?
Manson left behind a long trail of crime and incarcerations, mostly involving car thefts, across Indiana during the 1940s and 1950s well before he and his "Family" became infamous for the murder of actress Sharon Tate and her friends in 1969.
Born in 1934 in Ohio, Manson started his criminal career at a young age. His mother went to prison on an armed robbery conviction, and Charlie lived with various relatives in the Midwest until landing in the Gibault School for Boys, a reform school in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Manson stayed 10-months at Gibault and was on his own by age 13 in Indianapolis.
He landed in the Marion County Juvenile Center where a local priest tried to help by getting a judge to send Manson to the Father Flanagan's Boys' Town in Nebraska.
Manson escaped from Boys' Town four days after arriving there.
By 1948, Manson was at the Indiana School for Boys in Plainfield, Indiana. He supposedly attempted escaping from the reform facility 18 times, succeeding twice and publically accusing the school of abusing its charges.
The last record of Manson in Indiana seems to be a 1956 arrest for parole violation.
No one can be sure than Manson spent time in the Hendricks County lock-up, but it seems entirely possible considering his multiple arrests, escapes and re-arrests in the area.
Thanks to Visit Hendricks County for sponsoring my visit to Hendricks County, providing lodging, meals and a tour of Hendricks County attractions for my review during my recent visit there, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2013 All rights reserved