No Return Guests at the Old Calaboose

The first structure at Pioneer Village to be moved recently was the Pangburn Jail.  It is so medieval in appearance, many visitors wondered if it was a joke.  But the town fathers who devised it 91 years ago were very serious about its design and purpose.


Little Red River Journal, June 9, 1982


he old jail at Pioneer Village in Searcy is so medieval in appearance, many visitors wonder if it is a joke. But the Pangburn town fathers who devised it in 1911 were very serious about its design and purpose.

      As I remember it, our newly elected mayor, John Austin Pangburn, ripped a piece of brown wrapping paper from its roll, spreading it on the counter of his combination general store and post office.  After painstakingly smoothing it out, he took a pencil and went diligently to work at the proposed plans that would soon incarcerate anyone caring to break the law.  It wasn’t more than 10 minutes until he straightened to his full 5’5” height, displaying a bit of artistic ingenuity in the town’s chief carpenter, J.E. Fletcher, and to the five town councilmen who served passively under Mayor Pangburn.  While the mayor was slight in stature, heavily bearded and possessed a fine crackling voice, he was not one easily swayed once his mind was set, and when it was decided the calaboose was to be an uncomfortable affair, he stuck to the original plan, coming up with a proposition almost deplorable and medieval in structure.  It wasn’t exactly what the five councilmen had in mind, however, the mayor was a strong defender in his contentions, and so the calaboose was built to his specifications.            

             In the mayor’s proposal, the building was to be a 12’x16’ windowless structure, with slots cut in the sides for ventilation.  A standard size door would be used for admitting prisoners, with an access door above to be used to feed them.  For safety precautions, a ladder would be used for lowering the food to the inside.

            The inside walls were to be of 2x4s laid flat and nailed with 30d spikes.  The outside was to be covered with 22-gauge galvanized tin.  The roof was to be a 12-12 pitch, the same structure as the walls.

            It took only one’s imagination to realize the building would be miserably cold in the winter months.  When thought came of the 100-degree Arkansas summer days, that brought on some heated arguments about town.  When asked about the inhumane discomfort, the mayor’s only comment was, “Be confounded sure not to break the law.”

            When J.E. Fletcher turned the finished product over to the town, a loud chorus of  “Oh’s!” could be heard from the female population about town.  One member of the Ladies Aid Society broached the mayor with warm words of criticism and flatly stated no one except a lunatic or someone inebriated to his fullest capacity could ever fabricate such a preposterous and inhumane contraption.  Voicing for both the Methodist Ladies Aid and the Baptist Auxiliary, she said if ever the calaboose were used, it would be after the battle of the sexes had been fought and won.          

          But, as I have already said, Mayor Austin Pangburn was indeed set in his ways.  In the end, the calaboose stayed and it was used.  However, I can boastfully say, whether moderately or simply downright mean, one night in the calaboose was enough for any prisoner, but needing more applauding was the fact there were no return engagements.   www