Lake Norman & Mooresville

Plan underway to turn old Huntersville jail into museum

The town replaced the roof on The former Huntersville Jail last year and now plan to rehabilitate the Depression-era jail so it can be used as a museum.
The town replaced the roof on The former Huntersville Jail last year and now plan to rehabilitate the Depression-era jail so it can be used as a museum. Observer file photo

After sitting empty for several decades, a historic jailhouse in downtown Huntersville is expected to reopen – only this time not for inmates.

Town officials are planning to rehabilitate the Depression-era jail, on Huntersville-Concord Road, seeking to turn the tiny building into a kind of museum that would offer a window into an era when lawbreaking posed a serious problem in Mecklenburg County.

“It has a lot of significance,” town Commissioner Rob Kidwell said at a meeting in late March. Commissioners voted at that meeting to have the town look into how much it would cost to make the jail fit for tours, such as school field trips.

With the help of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, the town will assess the condition of the more than 80-year-old brick structure, paying to make any necessary improvements. A cost estimate would go before commissioners for approval.

While the town replaced its deteriorating shingle roof last summer, the jail is without a heating and cooling system, and its electrical wiring appears outdated, Kidwell said.

But as for its structural integrity, it “looks solid,” he said, citing its sturdy masonry.

Designated a local landmark, the jail is the oldest municipal building in town, built around 1935, according to historical records. It contains only about 600 square feet, including a two-person cell where people were kept on charges such as drunk and disorderly conduct and bootlegging.

A local historic preservation group, the Olde Huntersville Historic Society, intends to raise money to help fund its rehabilitation. The volunteer group helped pay for nearly three-fourths of the roof replacement, which cost a total of about $10,000, with the town paying the remainder.

“We’ve got people who want to donate,” said Commissioner Dan Boone, the group’s treasurer, citing longtime residents.

Seeking to preserve the town’s history, the group has compiled historical records of the jail, including audio recordings and photographs, that it intends to put on display there, said Kidwell, who serves as the town’s liaison to the group. He noted that it also envisions turning the less than half-acre property into a so-called pocket park, or planting gardens there.

Just around the corner from the old jail is another historic gem, an old barbershop, that could also see renewal.

The landmarks commission is seeking to renovate the Main Street building, once the home of Walters Barbershop, seeking an appraisal after entering into a purchase agreement with its private owner.

But before doing so, the town must designate it a local landmark, which would prevent significant changes to its exterior. Commissioners could vote on whether to do so as soon as late May, said Sushil Nepal, a principal planner for the town.

An enduring reminder of a bygone era, the brick building was erected in 1920 by a local businessman. It served as a gathering place particularly for men, offering not only haircuts but shoe shines and a public shower — a kind of luxury during the Great Depression.

In those days, Huntersville was “an incredibly different place,” said Dan Morrill, director of the landmarks commission. He spoke of barefoot youngsters and overall-clad adults, and steam locomotives passing through what was a largely agricultural town at the time. “It bears almost no relationship what it is now.”

Jake Flannick is a freelancer writer: