Thursday, November 15, 2007

Law firm converts old jail to office space

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - Visitors to Mike Woods' law practice are greeted with a sight not often found in legal offices: a jail cell.

The office for Woods and Woods is located in the old Vanderburgh County Jail - an 1890 downtown building honoured Tuesday with a historical marker from the Indiana Historical Bureau.

The old jail was modelled after a German castle and in 1903 was the site of a race riot in which 12 people were killed and many more injured.

The jail sat empty from 1967 until 1994, Woods said, and was full of weeds and trash before being renovated. Woods and Woods moved its offices into the building in 2004 and continues to lease the second-floor space from the county.

"Through the years, the old jail has received minor repairs and updates, a few new coats of paint, and thousands of visitors, but it hasn't lost its intrigue," Woods said.

"Preserving this history is important because it allows community members to reflect on the past, to learn from and appreciate those who came before us."

The building still has bars over the windows, which provides an interesting atmosphere for the firm's 30 employees.

"They are always joking they can't get away, or saying we're slave drivers," Woods said.

Visitors can see one of the original cramped jail cells, complete with four metal bunk beds, a sink and a toilet.

The office's employee break room is adjacent to a door leading to a tunnel that connects the old jail with the old county courthouse. Woods said the tunnel was used to transport prisoners between the two facilities.

"Both these buildings were once on the verge of being destroyed," he said. "Now, they are saved."

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