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Small-town Security, Kentucky

As told by Students at Trimble County High School
Bedford, Kentucky

Story Narrative:

A woman wears a straw hat and an orange shirt that says Trimble Co. Historical Society.

Students in a media class at Trimble County High School in Bedford, Kentucky, partnered with Trimble County Public Library to create digital projects about their town and its local history. As part of the Stories: Yes storytelling initiative, students collaborated on four video projects exploring topics such as sports, theater, farming, and crime in their small town.

Speaker 1 (00:03): Our small town provides safety and security. We know each other and the neighbors help keep an eye on things. On average Trimble County experiences a crime only once every 24 hours, but our stone jail has provided safety for our community until 1983. And today we'll hear some of those stories.

Hilda Parish (00:24): This part was built in, there's a controversy, 1855, 1859, and then there's other says built in 1850. The upstairs was built in 1899, but the lower part has six box and three cells. It has a stainless steel commode with a wash basin and it has a shower. They were put in in the fifties. Up until that time, it was pan of water and a rag.

Hilda Parish (01:05): But most of the prisoners that they had here at the time were just local peoples who were caught with alcohol, traffic tickets, citations and everything, held overnight. So they didn't bother about blocking any of the doors except for the door to the outside, not the inside doors. They left them open so that they could mingle. They sat and played cards and did their normal thing, probably shop guys and all that stuff.

Hilda Parish (01:36): But one incident, Henry Tingle was the jailer and he was bringing over a meal, opened the door, which there's two doors, so he was holding the tray. One of the prisoners decided he didn't want to stay. He crawled up in the ceiling and put his feet up on the door that was open. And when Henry came in, he jumped down on him, knocked him down and escaped for a couple of hours.

Hilda Parish (02:08): In 1927, James Riley Williams was a jailer and he had arrested a man and he had been in jail before and he said, "You're not going to put me back in jail. I won't go." And they had a scuffle. Riley Williams, the jailer, was killed and his wife, Pearl Williams, who was pregnant with the 10th child, became the jailer. And she even, they say, jailed the man who shot her husband. But she went on to be appointed the jailer to represent her husband until his term was up. She ran for office and was elected two more times.

Hilda Parish (03:00): Her own boys that were arrested for alcohol, they didn't like it here. They saw that there was a chip in the floor, which was just one thin layer of concrete. And one of them kept a spoon from his meal and every night they would chip away at that and hide the dirt underneath the bunk, the lower bunk way up front, where they couldn't be seen, dug a tunnel, went under this wall, dug under the ground and went under the yard fence and escaped. And there were three of them, but they did get caught. But can you imagine how long it took with a spoon to dig the tunnel to go under?

Hilda Parish (03:49): There was a teenager juvenile put upstairs because his parents couldn't handle him. And they thought a night in jail maybe or two would help straighten him out. It didn't, so he was brought back. He didn't like it. As close as these bars are, he squeezed between the bars in the upstairs part of this jail, shimmied down the side of the jail and escaped. And he not only did it once, but he did it twice. But the second time he got caught, something got caught and he couldn't get all the way down. And here he hung on the side of the building until they found him.

Hilda Parish (04:35): In earlier years, there was a lot of fun things that happened on the banks of the Ohio River. And we had the jail housed with the drunk and disorderly and men and women. It was overcrowded like sardines in a can. And then they took them outside and housed them inside the gates and the vents. That still didn't hold all of them, so they put a rope from the trees to their courthouse and had guards to stand out there. And they filled the yard up.

Hilda Parish (05:12): The judge came in on a Saturday afternoon and they were taking them one by one in, and he was setting the bail, releasing them if they could pay the bail, putting them back in if they couldn't. If you look in your local paper, there's hardly any felonies. We've had some murders here in the county, but none in the last six, eight, 10 years. It's a safe place.

Asset ID: 2022.02.01
Themes: History, architecture, building, security, prisons, jail, crime, folklore, storytelling, women's history
Date recorded: 2020
Length of recording: 05:46 m
File Type: Video
Related traveling exhibition: Crossroads: Change in Rural America
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Trimble County High School in collaboration with Trimble County Public Library, Bedford, Kentucky
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