Sheriff's job description has changed over the years
A photo gallery of this Mystery Place is HERE
The Walworth County Law Enforcement Center is located on the far east side of Elkhorn on County Highway NN. It is on the north side of the road across the street from the public works/highway buildings.
The job of sheriff in the early days included many tasks not included in today’s responsibilities. During the terms of Otis Preston, the first Walworth County sheriff in the newly established state of Wisconsin, the job included responsibility for the courthouse and any other county property. Any money due the county was to be collected by him and paid into the county treasury.
This latest jail and sheriff’s department was dedicated on Nov. 1, 1995. Dean McKenzie was the sheriff at this time and Lawrence Scharine was chairman of the county board.
Others participating in the program that day included Deacon DeSales, chaplain of the department; William Cumming, former sheriff and chairman of the Law Enforcement Committee; and Duwane Logterman, chairman of the Public Property Committee. The sheriff’s office honor guard presented the colors. Along with members of the Elkhorn Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Elkhorn American Legion, the honor guard led the flag-raising ceremony. Tours of the building following the ceremony were available for the invited guests.
This current building again brought all of the parts of this department into one location. Prior to this, the Huber prisoners were housed in the former insane asylum building, part of the courthouse annex.
The first jail built in courthouse park in 1840 was of log construction. It was 14 feet by 20 feet. According to C. W. Butterfield’s “History of Walworth County,” it was built of oak timbers, which were 10 inches thick. Plans for the building were supplied by A.K. Allen and built by W.B. Johnson.
Sheldon Waling was the first territorial sheriff. Nathaniel Bell was the fourth territorial sheriff. Preston was elected sheriff in November 1848. A Jan. 4, 1849, county board resolution gave Preston additional responsibilities. “Resolved: That the sheriff be, and is hereby directed to procure and put up a lightning rod on the courthouse, repair the steps, plastering and glass, and whitewash same, also to procure an ash pail, shovel and fire poker, also clean out the stove pipe and procure a dust brush, and the clerk draw an order of $25 for the payment of the same.”
Butterfield tells an interesting story about an early prisoner, William Brown. He was a young German boy accused of horse stealing. He was eventually set free because two grand juries refused to find cause against him.
However, during his incarceration he spent time cleaning up the park and enjoying freedom in the village. When the judge declared he should be discharged, Sheriff Preston found him in the park reading a paper, whereupon Preston demanded return of the jail key and then locked Brown out of the jail.
In 1852, a new jail was built because the log one kept few people in who desired to get out. This was built on the northwest corner of the park.
In 1878, the next jail was built northeast corner of Church and Walworth. That jail cost $10,546. It was two stories and had an area for the sheriff’s residence in the front of the building. An old picture of that jail shows a neat fence around the property.
Apparently this jail also was not very secure and soon more work was done on the cells. Later that building became a part of the State Long Distance Telephone Company. It still exists today.
The next jail was built at the northwest corner of Church and Walworth in 1878. Its cost including the land was $10,546. It was two stories and again provided living space for the sheriff in the front of the building.
In 1910, the jail was condemned by the State Board of Controls. A windmill located next to the jail was dismantled when the old jail was razed. Work began on a new building in 1914 and was completed the following year at a cost of $35,000. That second structure has been razed and the site currently is a parking lot.
In 1962, the jail was located in the new courthouse on the west end of the building. With the new jail came the end of the sheriff having his living quarters in part of the jail. Emmett “Pat” Welch was sheriff when this occurred.
If you would like to learn more, stop at your local library. In their reference section you should find a 1980 book, “History of Walworth County Departments.” There is an extensive section about the department in that book.