Jail Stories

 Burlington, Lawrence County, Ohio:

Researched by Sharon M. Kouns

(c) 2006 Kouns Family Archives

For more history about Burlington visit Burlington's History


The Board Clerk.

            “Tuesday, April 22, 1817.  Board all present pursuant to adjournment and after mature deliberation, it is agreed by said board to appoint Thomas Kerr clerk pro tem till the annual meeting on the first Monday in June next.  Further perseeded (sic) to appoint a county Treasurer, ordered by the Board that Thomas Kerr is appointed treasurer, for Lawrence County and he give bond as the law directs.  Agreed by said board that the treasurer’s bond be lodged in the hands of Joel Bowen, Esq.”

             “Rates of Tavern and Ferry Licenses:  agreed by the board, that Tavern licenses shall be in the county of Lawrence at the rate of six dollars per year till the first Monday of June next.  Ordered that ferry license in the county of Lawrence across the different water courses shall be at the rate of two dollars till the first Monday in June next:  and that the prices of transporting be as the law directs:  agreed by said board that their be seven hundred dollars appropriated for to build a jail in the town of Burlington.  Board adjourned till nine o’clock tomorrow morning.

"Friday, April 25, 1817.  Board met persuant to adjournment, agreed that there shall be four advertisements put up in the most public places in said county for the __il of the jail house in the town of Burlington and further two blank duplicate contracts for the inspection of those wishing to purchase or undertaker of the building to be lodged in the clerk's office.  Ordered that there be charged to the county of Lawrence four days and a half for David Spurlock, four days and half for Joel Bowen and four days for Joseph Davidson, for services as commissioners for the above said county in April session, 1817.  Ordered that the board of commissioners adjourn till the first Monday of June next, unless some special call otherwise.  Board adjourned till the first Monday of June next. Thos. Kerr Clerk.

John C. Sperry built the stone jail at Burlington after the log jail burned down.

James Sperry on the 1818 Fayette Township Tax List was the father of William Sperry, who married Cynthia Clark. 

IET Aug. 21, 1947 - Clarinda S. Kelley - Funeral services for Mrs. Clarinda Sperry Kelley, 79, who died Monday afternoon at her home in Fullerton, were held today at 2 p.m. at Sunshine Church.  She was a daughter of James Sperry, who was a captain in the Union Army in the Civil War.  Surviving are four children, Fred Kelley of Cove Gap, W. Va.; Gracie May and Gilbert Kelley of Fullerton and Theodore Kelley, 1310 Armstrong pl, Portsmouth; three step-children, John and Tandy Kelley of Portsmouth, and Martha Elswick of Ironton; three brothers, John, W. M. and Foster Sperry of West Virginia, and four grandchildren.

IR Nov. 7, 1872 - Marriage licenses James Sperry and Mary F. Thompson.

SOURCE: Ironton Evening Tribune, Saturday 08 Oct 1949

Editor's Note:  This historical sketch of Lawrence County, was written by the late Attorney H.M. Edwards, one of the county's leading history students, and was presented to the Tribune by him shortly before his death on Feb 19, 1939.

      After the establishment of Ironton in 1851, the county seat was removed from Burlington to Ironton where it has remained.

Geographically Lawrence County is divided into fourteen townships, one city and six incorporated villages.

...Women made most of the clothing, taking it through every process  from the raw material to the finished product.  A smart woman was reckoned by the amount of work she  could do.  Our only neighbors were the Bruce's and Sperry's.  The Bruce's and Sperry's were stone masons and as there was not much stone masonry to do, they had to go long distances from home in order to get work to do.  John Sperry built the stone jail at Burlington after the log jail burned down.  "There was a man who lived in that vicinity by the name of William B.  Morrison, who was a cabinet maker by trade as well as as undertaker.  He also practiced the medical profession, which consisted mainly in bleeding the patient.  This was the first step  in medical treatment and between a pint and a quart of blood was the amount taken from the arm and usually for only slight ailments.

IR June 23, 1904 - Ancient History of Our City From Register Files. - First Editor’s Opinion of the First County Jail - Ordinance Concerning Dogs.

            A busy man from the Register’s first editor must have been.  He took part in temperance meetings, visited the schools and took note of every new industry in town, was often present at the county institute, Farmer’s clubs in Rome, Windsor townships and made frequent trips to Burlington, the county seat, when the court was in session.

            In the Register of July 3, 1851, is an editorial anent a visit there, which contains many hints as to what the county’s first jail was like.

            The County Jail.

            “While at Burlington last week we visited for the first time the jail of Lawrence county.

            “The jail is nearly new, it being but two or three years since it was built.  That it has sufficient strength no one seems to doubt.  But I has been the subject of much complaint in regard to its fitness, especially in regard to its means of ventilation.  This being the state of things we visited the jail to see for ourself.

            “We think it an ill-looking, an ill-contrived building, without ornament or taste, or even plain neatness.

            “The whole building is so low that the ceiling overhead in the rooms can be reached by a short man standing on the floor.

            “The rooms when we were there, appeared to be in excellent order, for the purpose required.  We do not believe in making the situation of criminals TOO comfortable and the prisoners now there have as much as can be justly asked for by persons deserving punishment from a violated law.

            “The number now confined in the two rooms for criminals is five.  The rooms are very small, very low and each has a small window, and a door connecting one room with another.  ... The cells have each a small aperture at the top for ventilation.

            For a larger number than four, or six, it is decidely insufficient, but the jailer informed us that at one time it held fourteen persons.  At such times there can be no doubt that it is entirely inadequate to the wants of the county and injurious to the prisoner’s health.  [rest of article talks of Ironton’s ordinance on dogs.]



Record of Contract Awarded for the Burlington “Jail House.”

No. 4.

(Continued from last week.)

Ironton Register, December 4, 1902.


[This story refers to the log jail before the stone jail was built]

             The second session of the first board of commissioners of Lawrence county was begun on June 2, 1817, at Burlington, and the minutes of the session are as follows:

             “Board met persuant to adjournment last April session.  Present Joel Bowen, David Spurlock, Josiah Davidson, Commissioners.  Ordered that the first business to be acted upon is to perceed to make sale of the jail house of the town of Burlington to be sold to the lowest bidder and the clerk of said board to make sale of the same at two o’clock in the afternoon on the said day.  Perceeded to make sale of the log part of the jail house and made sale of the same to John Morrison, the legal purchaser to build the log part of the said jail agreeable to contract for the sum of three hundred and thirty four dollars.  Further perceeded to make sale of the frame part of jail house, and made sale of same to William Templeton, who is legal purchaser, for three hundred and thirty eight dollars.

IR June 22, 1854 - Lawrence County Jail  a Nuisance.... H. N. Gillett , foreman of the Grand Jury.... Thomas Proctor , Clerk, Lawrence Com. Pleas...

IR June 23, 1859 - small clippings.

·         The other day, while Sheriff McGirr  was absent, Mrs. McGirr   being on the look-out, discovered, as she thought, something passed into the jail to one of the prisoners. - She called in assistance, and a case knife, a stout one, was found, which had been filed so as to make it a saw on both edges, and then tempered so that it would cut iron very handsomely.  It was a good job, whoever did it; but it will now hardly saw off the window bars.

IR Aug. 25, 1864 - The old county jail is no more.  By contract of Messrs. Lawton  & Myer for the sum of $5,000 they are putting in wrought iron partitions enclosing twelve cells which they defy the devil or any of his imps to escape from.  During the present repairs Sheriff Sutton has removed his family to Etna Furnace  and his prisoners to Portsmouth.

Ironton Tribune, September 26, 1954
Submitted by Lorna Marks

IRON BARS DO NOT A PRISON MAKE. The county's first jail still stands at Burlington. But now it is a residence. The Dennis LAWSON family resides there now. Today two small boys romp and play in a two-story stone building at Burlington, which is their home, but some 137 years ago was the county jail.

The little boys, Dennis Jr. and Adrian LAWSON, are too young to realize that their home is one of the few original landmarks that remain at Burlington.

Shortly after Lawrence County was organized by Capt. James LAWRENCE of Burlington, N.J., in 1816, a courthouse and jail were erected and a park laid out at Burlington. The population of the county was then only 665.

When the jail was built the village was a thriving community having four stores, an academy, two churches, a newspaper printing office, and between 40 to 60 dwellings.

New houses have been erected on the former park site and the courthouse was torn down some years ago. Only the jail building stands in what was once the historic square in the little village of Burlington.

Replacing windows for the old iron bars and a new roof are the only improvements that have been made to the exterior of the weather-beaten stone building. Oldtimers say that some of the iron bars, which once covered the windows, were removed to the present county jail in Ironton. Old stone steps and walks are still being used. The main entrance was facing the river.

After the county seat was moved to Ironton in 1851 the jail was converted into a house and many families have resided there since then.

The building is located approximately 100 feet from Route 52 and may be viewed by passing motorists.

Almost two years ago the Dennis Lawson family purchased the building. They are remodeling the interior and plan to paint the exterior and landscape the lawn by next spring.



Ironton Register, October 23, 1891

Correspondence of the Register
            Lives there a man or child near or far around, who has not heard of Burlington? The town which was once the abode of greatness, and the metropolis and the county seat of Lawrence county. The place where the "wise men" of the East, Yes of the North, the South and West came when the star of hope and prosperity rose in its brilliancy, and stood over her sacred ground. Ah, yes; the children unto the third and fourth generations will hear and read of her with pleasure, and delight and wonder at her greatness. The child will clamber on the father's knee and list with intent ear to the good deeds done, and noble acts performed. Yes, you have heard, and even do hear and see marks of a great and mighty town. The silent tomb gives evidence of a people great and mighty in the past.

            Still stands the forest primeval overlooking the scenes of past glory. The ever acting hills stand as mirrors, reflecting the history of bygone days. Mighty cities have sprung up with their churches, halls and school buildings; empires have fallen and republics have arisen; the peaceful river, on whose bosom floats the palace and plies the mighty steamer, has widened its borders and changed its course. Thus have all things undergone change and with them, our beloved town.

            Once the abode of the mighty Probate, now the quiet home of the squire. Once where lawyers learned and wise expounded law profound and simple, now where "pedafoggers" die on account of morality and goodness.

            The old court house, where men were made rich by the mistake and misdeeds of others, is now the common school property of the district, where budding characters are developed. Where once the judge and the lawyers plead, stands the teacher and imparts instruction and decides cases of discipline and decorum. Its walls are crumbling its steeple shaky, and "mother earth" will soon say: "Tis enough, come down lower."

            The old jail, where men whose characters were stained with crime were kept, is now the home of a private family. The Town Hall is yet retained as such, and gives a nice appearance.

            But you ask about our town: "Has her glory faded, her business subsided, her interest fled; in a word, is she dead? Nay; look not on her thus. The influence those pioneers had cannot be blotted out. You might as well try to check the cyclone in its mad course, or chain still the angry billows of the deep, as to try to stop the influence of our forefathers. The royal blood still traverses our veins, and the honorable callings in life are represented by our noble men and women.

The profession of teaching is represented by a half-dozen progressive teachers. That of medicine, by one who stood at the head of his class at the noted Miami College, and by a lady who has thoroughly mastered the intricacies of the science. The ministers have long since learned of the congenial atmosphere of our town, and come yearly and cast their lot with us. The business of this place is carried on by business men, and at this time of the year you may hear the rustle of corn blades on hillside and dale, the rattle of seed on the ground and the rumple of apples in the barrel, all of which gives evidence of enterprising farmers.

            The young men and women have the same progressive spirit. Messrs. Frank Campbell and Edgar Wilson are attending Miami Medical college, and Millie Soupene is taking music lessons at Gallipolis.

The schools are conducted by an efficient corps of teachers as follows: Miss Ethel Williams, Primary. Miss Lulu Moore, intermediate and W. D. Sydenstricker, advanced.

            Time and space will not permit further detail. From time to time I will write you the passing events of the town.

Burlington Once Urban Center

By Connie Jo Justice

Ironton Tribune,  October 8, 1969

When this old hat was new, the people used to say

The best among the Presidents was former Henry Clay.

       The words of this old campaign song filled the streets of Burlington  in Fayette Township during the famous campaign in 1844 between Henry Clay, the Whig candidate, and James K. Polk, Democrat.

      The old Lawrence County seat was not only a noted place with much sentiment during the campaign, but also the urban center of the county.

      The occurrences of the campaign, plus reminiscences of school days, court sessions, steamboatman, manufacturing firms, and general old times; are recorded in a series of articles done by a resident of Burlington  in the Ironton  Register; in 1895.  The articles can be read in copies of the old paper at the Briggs-Lawrence County Library in Ironton .

      Also available at the library are the microfilms of censuses from 1850-80, obtained through the National Archives.

      The 1850 census recorded a total of 1,111 residents in the bustling township.  Unlike the townships we have covered thus far in our series, Fayette  Township and Burlington  was more close knit in physical proximity.  Actual inward growth had begun in Burlington  with a tannery, pottery, sawmill, cigar factory, drug store, carpet weavers, copper and silversmiths, printers, miners, lawyers, shoemakers, innkeepers, boatmen, mill wrights, and even a hatter.

      On Nov. 20, 1817, $1,500 was appropriated by the first county court for the building of a county court house in the public square.  Earlier that year on April 11, at the first meeting of the court, $700 for the building of a log jail was appropriated.

      The court house no longer stands, but the jail, which replaced the original log jail after a fire on Nov 7, 1846, still stands in the town commons in Burlington.

      The ledger recording the 1850 census, which was executed in the county by Elias NIGH, a 35-year-old Burlington lawyer at that time, notes even the seven prisoners lodged in the jail during the taking of the census.

      The prisoners ranged in age from 16 to 29 years, with two charged with stabbing with intent to kill, two for horse stealing, and others with assault and battery, petty larceny, and burglary.

      The court house was removed after the county seat of Lawrence County was changed to Ironton, due to Ironton 's closer proximity to the population center of the county.  The Burlington Water Co. office now stands at the site of the old court house.

      The census revealed that there were 196 dwellings in the township housing 199 families.  There were 512 white males, 444 white females, 68 colored males, and 87 colored females.  There were 180 residents over 20 years of age who could not read or write and 144 persons had attended school within the year.

      The largest family in the township according to the figures on the census, was that of John and Marie Toms, who had 16 children from one to 27 years of age.  John TOMS was listed as a Negro farmer.

      Also discovered among the names on the Fayette census was that of William F. Henshaw, 50 years old, the father-in-law of Elias Nigh.  Henshaw was the innkeeper and owner of the Harrison Hotel, one of Burlington's three hotels, "of which the town boasted.  Elias Nigh was married to Henshaw's daughter Alice, who was 28 years old at the taking of the census.

      The town's other two hotels were No. 2, located on the southeast corner of the square, owned by Thomas Clark of Ironton, and the White Hall, located on Washington Street and owned by Dr. O. D. Owen.  The Harrison Hotel, which catered to the most aristocratic, and the judges, lawyers, and furnace magnates were patrons, was located on the northwest corner of the public square.

      William Davidson, perhaps the first settler of the township, came there in 1798, followed by James Davidson, Samuel Ankrim, George Koons, and many other early settlers.

      The first school in the township was taught by John Phillips in 1812, with seven or eight scholars attending.

      Burlington was laid out by Edward Tupper of Gallia County in 1817.  The original plat map is framed and handing in the Lawrence County Historical Society'' museum near old Vesuvius Furnace at Lake Vesuvius.

      The unusual spelling of many names was noted in that day, as the early pioneers seemed to refrain from the use of many double letters.  Some such names noted in the 1850 census ledger were Robison, Bramer, Dun, Hains, Bennet, Cradick, Furguson, Ankrim, Dogget, Shelten, Hambleton, Dillion, Richison and Kounse.

      Today Burlington, still the center of Fayette Township, is home for over 5,444 residents, according to the 1960 census.

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(c) 2006 Kouns Family Archives