No St. Augustine vacation is complete without a trip to the Old Jail. Even if you’ve experienced this turn of the (last) century home for ne’er-do-well’s and rapscallions as part of the Ghosts and Gravestones tour, it’s worth a visit during the day. By joining up with a tour guide, you’ll be transported back to the year 1908, where you’ll get a first hand look at how far our country’s penitentiary system has come in the last hundred years.
The premise of the tour puts visitors into the role of fresh prisoners, being led into their home away from home by a guard of the times. The tour’s organizers have done an excellent job training and scripting their guides and the stroll through the grounds and the jail itself is replete with humor and historical information in equal parts. Thankfully, the tour’s premise of criminals being led to their incarceration doesn’t interfere with the informational aspect of the visit.
One of the first things you’ll see along the grounds is a lifelike statue of Sheriff Joe Perry, sitting peaceably at a bench outside the walls. This is the first of many photo opportunities you’ll have along the way. Get your picture taken in the stocks, from behind the bars of a human birdcage, in a jail cell, or in front of the historical gallows, where several men met their fate in the early 1900s.
Once inside the jail, your guide will tell you everything you need to know to make you grateful that you weren’t a prisoner at this time. Sheriff Joe Perry may not be an historical figure of national note, but he is the star of the Old Jail’s story. Listening to the guides tell the tale, one gets the feeling that Perry would not have cared for today’s more progressive prison system. Prisoners were stuffed into tiny cells and forced to use meager bathroom facilities (read: a bucket) when nature called.
The Old Jail may very well be a highlight for St. Augustine vacationers with an eye for history. While it is a different kind of history than is celebrated in many other parts of the city, it is one of the closest visions of the past available. A must see for anyone who enjoys well put together historical tours and certainly a treat for anyone who considers themselves a U.S. justice system connoisseur.
Old St. Johns County Jail
167 San Marco Ave.
St. Augustine, FL 32084