|City/Town: • Greensboro
|Location Class: • Community
|Built: • 1908 | Abandoned: • 1999
|Historic Designation: • National Register of Historic Places (1976)
|Status: • Abandoned
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit
Table of Contents
A Short History of Hale County, Ala.
In December 1823, the community of “Troy” was incorporated as a town and renamed “Greensborough” in honor of American Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene. The name was later simplified to “Greensboro.” Several sites on the National Register of Historic Places in or near Greensboro reflect the history of the town’s antebellum years and a culture built on cotton plantations. Following the end of the Civil War, Greensboro became the county seat when Hale County was established on January 30, 1867.
Since the American Civil War, whites have controlled much of the economic and political power in Hale County, enforced early by violence and later by the decades of disenfranchisement of black voters and statewide imposition of Jim Crow. In the first half of the 20th century, many African Americans left the county in two waves of migration to cities and northern and western industrial centers.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Greensboro in 1968, two weeks before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. He sought refuge from the Ku Klux Klan in a small, shotgun-style home owned by the Burroughs, a family of Civil Rights activists, now known as the Safehouse Black History Museum.
By the late-1960s, African-Americans had regained the ability to vote. In 1997, after a highly contested mayoral election, the city of Greensboro elected its first black mayor, John E. Owens Jr. The first African-American chief of police, Claude Hamilton, was appointed in 2000. In 2006, black and white county residents joined in electing the first black county sheriff, Kenneth W. Ellis, who was formerly the Moundville police chief.
Old Hale County Jail
Located behind the neoclassical, historic Hale County Courthouse, the Old Hale County Jail served the county from its completion in 1908 until 1999, when it was replaced by the modern correctional facility. The masonry building is distinct with its 24 large windows inset with iron bars, and its crenelated battlements. The jail is three stories with offices on the first floor and holding cells on the second and third. The second and third floors were each divided into two separate cells. The jail could hold up to 71 inmates, but on average held 42.
The jail was constructed during a period of socially conscious prison reform. During the nineteenth century, large convict labor camps were commonplace, but around the turn of the twentieth-century prison farms and county and city jails began taking their place.
The jail is owned by the Hale County Commission and sits vacant. The primary threat is vacancy and decay, leaving the building with the possibility of demolition. There are several structural issues that need to be addressed, including a damaged roof. A thorough Historic Structures Report would help to identify key weaknesses in the building’s structural elements and consider rehabilitation plans.
On August 13, 1976, the Old Hale County Jail was listed on the National Register of Places along with the Greenwood House as a contributing structure of the Greensboro Historic District which the historic Magnolia Hall anchors.
In 1994, the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation and the Alabama Historical Commission established the “Places in Peril” to bring public attention to historic sites that are in danger of being lost. The Old Hale County Jail was included in the 2018 “Places in Peril” to highlight several structural issues resulting from the vacancy of the building. Included in the list as well were the Acmar Civic Center in Acmar, St. Clair County; Ada Hanna School School in Hamilton, Marion County; Hamburg Building in Foley, Baldwin County; Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Fruithurst, Cleburne County; and George W. Braxdall Lodge #28 in Decatur, Morgan County