The Archer County Jail in 2014. It is located in Archer City, Texas. It was the county’s second jail. Completed in September 1910, it was used until 1974. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, via Flickr, used with permission.

Old Prisons

A museum located in a jail in a small Texas town has been closed for two years, but the recent sale of the old jail to a nonprofit organization is expected to result in its restoration.

News Channel 6 and other sources reported in late February 2020 that the old Archer County Jail Museum has been sold to a nonprofit organization run by area resident Jerry Phillips.

Archer County Commissioner Richard Shelley said the organization plans to do some rehabilitation of the building and keep the museum. Earlier News Channel 6 reported that the building had multiple issues including asbestos and very steep steps.

In other news reports, Phillips said there will be fundraising to create an endowment to care for the property. The sales price was reported at $10,000. Some items that were once in the museum have reportedly been returned to donors.

McMurtry country

The old jail is located in the county seat of Archer City, a town of around 1800 people located south of Wichita Falls, Texas, in an area known for dairy production. The town is about two hours north of the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport. It is the hometown of novelist Larry McMurtry (author of the 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove and other titles). McMurtry is part-owner of a bookstore, Booked Up Inc., located about two blocks away from the old jail.

The old jail

According to an article published in the Times Record News of Wichita Falls when the jail museum was open, a “state-of-the-art feature” of the jail when it was built was a mechanical trap on the third floor with a hangman’s noose suspended from the ceiling.

A historic marker near the building tells the story of the old jail: “By 1909 Archer County had outgrown its original jail, a 16-foot square frame building. Construction on this larger facility was completed in September 1910. The sandstone structure was designed with living quarters for the sheriff and his family on the ground floor. The second and third floors had cells and a hanging gallows which was never used. The first prisoner held in this jail was arrested for stealing a horse. More than 8,000 prisoners were jailed here until the county opened a new facility in 1974.”

Jack Loftin

John Ingle of the Times Record News dug up a lot of information about the old jail, including the fact that a man named Jack Loftin, known as “Mr. Archer County History,” started the museum in the mid-1970s, filling the old jail with everything he could find that represented something to do with the history of the area.

The author of Trails Through Archer, Loftin died in 2014. According to his obituary, he joined the Archer County Historical Commission in 1966. He put together the museum in 1974 and was a member of the West Texas Historical Commission.

For visitors

Although the jail isn’t currently open, it is among the attractions listed by the City of Archer City. In addition to McMurtry’s bookstore, visitors might enjoy seeing the Royal Theatre, made famous by the author’s “The Last Picture Show,” and now a performing arts center. 

Also nearby is the 1926 Archer County Courthouse, which was restored in 2004 with funding from a grant by the Texas Historical Commission.