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Brannon looks to save part of Vilonia's past

Posted: May 15, 2014 - 5:49pm
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LINDA HICKS PHOTO   Kevin Brannon of Vilonia is heading up an effort to save the old jail in Vilonia unearthed while cleaning up tornado debris.
LINDA HICKS PHOTO Kevin Brannon of Vilonia is heading up an effort to save the old jail in Vilonia unearthed while cleaning up tornado debris.

Many Vilonia residents are thinking about the future, but Kevin Brannon is thinking about the past and what he can do to save a little piece of it.

Brannon is heading up a grass-roots effort to save the city’s old jail — a 7x12 foot cell, made of rock and mortar.

Underground, it had been unearthed as a result of the tornado cleanup.

The bars on the door are intact as well as the urinal.

“I want to see it saved,” Brannon said, standing on the ledge looking in at the find Thursday. “There’s very little of the old history of Vilonia left.”

The jail currently sits on private property, Brannon said, but the owner is in favor of the jail being preserved and placed on city property for future generations to see. Arrangements have been made, Brannon said, with the city for it to be preserved above ground on Bise Lane, near the fire department.

There, it will be placed above ground for everyone to see, Brannon said.

Stories are often shared regarding the jail, residents said. There are stories from the 60s and 70s regarding the jail but those asked don’t really know the year it was built. Some of the stories shared have to do with the unruly who have been detained there. While there appears to be no evidence to confirm it, some residents have heard that a famous outlaw was held there for a few days.

Cliff Barnes, a former Vilonia resident, shared what he referred to as a “story, legend or a tall tale.” A guy who was locked up in the jail on a Saturday night to dry out, Barnes recalls. “As the story goes, someone heard lots of screaming and they just figured he was drunk. Morning came and when they let him out, his hair had turned white — looked over in the corner and there was a water moccasin in the cell with him.”

It may be a challenge, he said, but he believes “we can get it done.” The “we” he said he is referring to is anyone who would like to volunteer their services to help. The current needs, he said, is a track hoe, a medium sized crane as well as a couple of large beams and some framing and strapping material. The idea, he said, is to lift it out. Should the idea not work, Brannon plans to number each rock and dig them out one at a time.

Vilonia resident Jared Fowlkes, who is also helping with the preservation project, said originally the jail was built with the fire station on top.

“The old jail was a fire station and jail combo,” Fowlkes said. “It was two-story. The top was the fire station which was about 12 by 20 foot. The front of it was flush with the highway but it started sloping from there to the back. You’d lead a prisoner down the sloping ground to the back of the building and that’s where the door was. So the back eight-foot of the fire station had a walk out basement that was actually a jail.”

Anyone wanting to help with the project may call Brannon at 501-908-9046.

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