A brief history of the Old Jail:
Daybreak on the 18th of January in 1885 most certainly shed light on a scene of utter pandemonium for the residents of King William Courthouse. During the wee hours of that morning, by sheer accident or by arson, the county clerk's office was destroyed by fire. The blaze consumed ninety percent of the records that had accumulated since the establishment of King William's county court in 1702. A reporter for one of Richmond's highly circulated newspapers decried the loss of these records as "irreparable, and will entail any amount of trouble upon the King William people." Indeed, almost three years would pass before the county court would reach a decision in December 1887 to appoint "Judge Roger Gregory to inspect the mutilated records of this county and report to this court at its next term which of said records in his opinion should be re-entered and transcribed." There was one bright spot, however.
King William's government had insured the clerk's office for $1200. Before the end of 1885, the county would have a new clerk's office and a new jail. The new clerk's office would be built on the site of the county's "old jail," and a "new jail" was constructed where the old clerk's office had stood for several generations before its destruction. The "old" jail may have been considered insecure by this time. In March 1878 a creative correspondent, communicating from Konig Wilhelm to the Richmond Dispatch, reported that an inmate, a "petty thief, ... caged and awaiting trial," had "filed the lock of the inner door of the cage," and would have escaped had he not been discovered by the county jailor. The inmate was then placed in irons, but he "was overheard in the night while (again) operating upon the locks." This time the prisoner was "handcuffed and securely fastened to the floor."
A new jail had been completed by April 1885, when Rachel Roane was confined in the rude brick structure for sixty days under a sentence of petit larceny handed down by Dr. Tomlin Braxton, a justice of the peace. Perhaps the wildest cause for imprisonment came many years later in April 1932, when one Effie Collins was charged with the murder of her husband, Archie Collins, a Pamunkey Indian.
In testimony provided to David Nelson Sutton, King William's attorney for the commonwealth, Mrs. Collins confessed that she had fractured her husband's skull"by striking him with a piece of wood." According to his wife, Archie Collins had "made himself obnoxious after returning home from a party." Collins' dead body had been found the next morning "in the road of Pamunkey Indian Town, near Lester Manor." Twenty years earlier, Archie Collins had been implicated in the robbery and shooting of one Otto Kucera, a Hanover County farmer.
By 1887 the job of Jailor of King William County was held by one Augustine Browne Hill (1846-1909). Hill had married the daughter of the county clerk, Octavius Madison Winston. Under the style Hill & Winston the two men had operated a mercantile establishment in an "old brick store" that stood in what is now a graveled area near the approach to the court square. Hill was the proprietor of the "King William Courthouse Hotel," housed in an eighteenth century tavern that is no longer above ground. Hill's wife, Nannie Madison Hill (1851-1928) assisted her husband by preparing meals for the county's jailed residents.
The jail would play an auspicious role in the life of Augustine Browne Hill. Tragedy struck his life in March 1896 when the old tavern that housed his family and provided his livelihood burned to the ground. Hill and his family escaped with little more than the clothes on their backs. Like most of his neighbors, Hill carried no insurance on his home. Consequently, after the fire he relocated to a rented house in Newport News and worked briefly for the Newport News Shipping and Dry Dock Company.
At some point in his life as a tavern-keeper, Hill had had an altercation with an inebriated patron. During the fracas, Hill was hit hard over the head by a beer bottle. It is believed that this caused some brain damage, as Hill became subject to fits of melancholy after this injury. He eventually gave up his job in Newport News and returned to his position as Jailor in King William. One morning before sunrise he retrieved his pistol from the jail and shot himself twice in the head. His stunned family buried him at St. James' Church.
When his wife died, Gus Hill's children moved his body to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. The man is forgotten now, but one wonders whether he may still exert a benevolent presence on the court square. A benevolent presence or just plain common sense prompted a rejuvenation of "Hill's" jail when the building was abandoned by the county government in 1947.
After sixty-two years the jail was described as "approaching the status of an eyesore." At the same time, the county offices were cramped for lack of space. The jury room in the old courthouse was shared by the county's superintendent of schools, W. E. Garber, and the county's home demonstration agent, Ruth McNeil. The vacation of the jail presented the county with an opportunity.
this brief history courtesy of Steve Colvin