Search This Blog

Monday, January 15, 2018

Lock'em Up! Mariposa's Old Stone Jail

The first recorded jail facility for Mariposa County in California' Gold Country was built in 1852 from logs cut from surrounding forest. It was constructed close to the present day cemetery, near the creek behind the Trabucco Warehouse in the town of Mariposa. During this period, another tiny jail was built in the town of Hornitos and used to detain prisoners prior to transportation to Mariposa. 

1854 Mariposa
In 1858 a fire destroyed most of the south end of Mariposa, including the jail there. 

The same year construction began on a second jail. It  was built by J.O. Lovejoy for the amount of $14,744 using native granite stone quarried in the Mormon Bar area about two miles south from jail's location on Bullion Street. The granite intrusion from which those blocks were cut forms the southern barrier of the Mother Lode. 
Mormon Bar-South View 1858-60
The jail was completed in 1858. It is located on a small knoll above Bullion Street overlooking the town. The walls were formed from 24” thick granite blocks with the outside dimensions of 33 feet by 26 feet. Originally, the jail was a two story structure with a flat roof and a gallows built on it which extended from the east end of the building. Small windows covered by tiny, iron bars gave the building a foreboding appearance. Making prisoners comfortable was not a priority in the early days of the county, as many bad men who ended up spending time there discovered.

In 1892, the building was gutted by fire. It was believed the fire was set as part of an escape attempt. The only person who died in the fire was the sole inmate, Thomas Truit, which meant he did escape, but not in the manner he probably originally had in mind.

After the fire, the building was reconstructed by removing the upper story and changing the roof to a gable roof instead of the former flat roof. The surplus granite that came from the upper level was used in making retaining walls at the county fairgrounds.

Several prisoners have escaped over the years, usually by overpowering the guards. In 1935 two inmates escaped with outside help. Rivets were cut, an iron plate removed, and a stone block worked loose. Both escapees were captured in Oregon.
This facility remained the Mariposa County jail for one hundred and five years until 1963 when it was condemned.

The empty building now stands as a historical site with an E. Clampus Vitus plaque posted to tell its history.

Malakoff, California Gold Country: Highway 49 Revisited, The

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. She has published five novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series. Now is a great time to start with Big Meadows Valentine .


  1. What an interesting post, Zina. I love that the granite was tied to the infamous mother lode. Best of luck with Big Meadows Valentine.

  2. I love that it's still standing. Such a rich history.

  3. I think about the isolation of the jail - no trees around it so there was no shade and no buffer from the winter wind. What a truly miserable place it must have been for the prisoners as well as for the lawmen assigned there. I'm glad it's been preserved as an historical site so the history isn't lost.

  4. I apologize for being late getting here.
    Granite--wow, this jail is like a fortress. I can't imagine anyone escaping it, but where there's a way, there apparently was a way. It sure doesn't look like a place I would even want to stay in for a single night.
    How many prisoners did this jail hold if it was at maximum capacity? How did they heat a thing like this anyway?
    I found this a very interesting article.
    I wish you all the best, Zina.

  5. Considering my former career, old jails have a particular fascination for me. Thanks for adding to my knowledge. Doris