Declared surplus property by Jefferson County and facing the wrecking ball late last year, Madras’ historic Old Courthouse and adjacent county jail building were granted a last-minute reprieve when local resident Steve Jansen stepped in to save them. County commissioners, citing engineering reports suggesting the courthouse was unsafe and impractical to repair, made the property available for purchase, with demolition and redevelopment a likely outcome. No offers were submitted until December, when Jansen offered $10,000 to take it off the county’s hands.
Since acquiring the buildings, Jansen has made significant structural upgrades, including framing out interior walls in the basement that will be filled with insulation to prevent the foundation from drawing moisture and fastening the basement foundation to the exterior wall with reinforcing rods. Six inches of cement fascia was poured on the outside of the original foundation. Jansen has replaced the deteriorated roof of the jailhouse, which previously offered little protection from the elements and led to cracking of the structure’s cement floor.
He is also constructing a six-foot metal fence around the jail building, amid concerns of vandalism. Those with in-depth knowledge of the jailhouse’s history may find this ironic: as detailed in the National Register of Historic Places nomination that Jansen prepared for the property, the iron jail cells currently in the historic jailhouse were taken by force from the city of Culver on New Year’s Day 1917, when Madras officially succeeded its neighbor as Jefferson’s county seat. According to the nomination form, a group of 75 men with horse teams and 25 automobiles went to Culver and absconded with most of the county records and furniture, having the place “cleaned out by 10:30 in the morning.”
The Old Courthouse served as the county seat from its construction in 1917 until 1961 when the new courthouse was built a block away, during which time the tiny jailhouse— consisting of two small two-man cells, a single toilet and wood-fueled furnace, and a small perch above the cells where the jailer slept— remained the only facility for holding prisoners. Various county offices and the Oregon State University Extension Service have occupied the building in the intervening years, and it was home to the Jefferson County Historical Society’s museum from the 1970s until last year.
With the loss of the 100-year-old Madras Hotel to fire in October and only a handful of buildings remaining from the town’s early development, Jansen’s efforts to save these historic structures take on added importance. He hopes to have the property restored and ready for tours in time for Madras’ centennial in 2017, and ultimately plans to rent out the lower half to a business and use the upper floor for special events.
For more on this story, see the Bend Bulletin‘s recent article.