“You know the story ‘bout the jailhouse rock

Go on and do it, but just don’t get caught

They got ‘em all in the jailhouse, ain’t they baby

I ain’t livin’ long like this”

— Rodney Crowell, sung by Emmylou Harris 

Jailhouse experiences have been lamented, romanticized, and held up as cautionary tales for centuries. From 1808 to 1978, the Old Brunswick County Jail in Southport has had some tales to tell. Southport Historical Society’s Zoom “Armchair History” presentation provided 60 participants with a virtual tour of the jail, narrated by Nancy and Charles Christianson along with Joe Loughlin and David Ratcliffe, descendants of key figures in the jail’s history. 

The current jailhouse was completed in 1904, replacing previous wooden structures. The current two-story brick building was designed to last through the ages, and so it has, thanks to the careful stewardship of the Southport Historical Society. Prior to the Age of Coronavirus, the jailhouse museum hosted many families, groups, and visitors, offering children’s scavenger hunts and other learning experiences. 

The “patch room,” maintained by volunteer Shirley Johnston, currently features over 500 law enforcement uniform patches from across America and around the world that have been donated to the museum, including 242 patches from North Carolina cities, towns, and counties. Our “sister city” of Southport England also sent materials. 

When the jailhouse renovation was undertaken to convert it to a museum, the condition of the metal jailhouse metal was abysmal, necessitating extensive sandblasting. Soon, the problem became the solution as bottles of the sandblasted rust were sold for one dollar apiece to fund the project.

If you like that sort of creative thinking and enjoy these presentations, please consider supporting the Southport Historical Society (www.southporthistoricalsociety.org) or the Friends of the Library Southport & Oak Island (www.folsoi.org).