Saturday, October 12, 2019

Energy, Illinois' Calaboose History.

On Route 148, right in the middle of Energy, Illinois, there was a squat, concrete, empty calaboose (prison).
The 2nd Calaboose, this one built from concrete.
The heavy metal door on rusty hinges and the two small cells were bare. There were no signs of the colorful history of prisoners or escapes - only a few scrawlings were found on the walls, including a faded 'J.R. loves' [somebody], written in lipstick.

There is a history. It goes way back before the little jail was built. There was an older jail, one built of two-by-fours.

The history of jails is the history of Energy, which was a quiet town - the residents called it the quietest, and friendliest town in Southern Illinois. The concrete jail had only been used three times in 37 years.

But there was a time when Energy and its jail were full of the rowdy, drinking and cursing men. Back in those days, the Energy calaboose, which was less than 200 feet from the nearest saloon, was the center of town activity every night from 6 pm until 10 pm. It was back in the early 1900s.

At 5 pm the miners from Carterville, Herrin and Marion would begin to pile into the four noisy saloons that lined the streetcar line that brought them to Energy. They would be in a hurry because they had only four hours to drink, argue, fight, and cuss before they had to take the last streetcar out at 10 pm. They had to drink their fill in Energy because back home in Carterville and Marion it was dry.

At about 8 pm, Charley Perrin, Henry Range or some of the other policemen would begin filling up the Energy jail. And just about 10 pm, the prisoners would break out of this first frail jail so that Ben Walker and some of the other streetcar operators could get them back home on the 10 pm run.

The first Energy jail was built by Marion Kood at a cost to the city of $1 a day. The jail, which was later turned into a coal shed, is remembered for the tales about those who escaped.

There were two area rowdies who were more than familiar with the inside of the Energy Calaboose than anyone else. One was a roamer who lived in Happy Hollow. He was taller than most people and skinnier too. He would get in a little trouble, after drinking in one of the saloons, and they would toss him in jail. It was said that he was so thin he'd squeeze out through the chimney flue.

There was another little man from Carterville. He weighed just a little over 100 pounds. It was said he was a mean little guy, and no sooner than they would throw him in jail than he would pry loose a floorboard, escape, and beat up the arresting officer. They finally left him alone.

In fact, the only person ever locked in the old calaboose that they know for sure didn't get out one way or another was "an old figntin' woman." She would get wild - kicking and screaming and they'd throw her in jail.

The city saw the need for a better jail. About 1908, Price Watson built the concrete jail that stood in the center of Energy. He threw in the construction of the jail and all of the city sidewalks for $1,000. He did a good job too. No one ever escaped.
The 2nd Calaboose, this one built from concrete.
After the new jail was built they put the old one up for public auction.

The new concrete jail was not used for long. New city and federal laws put the saloons out of business and when the saloons were gone the need for a city jail was gone, and Energy became a quiet little town.

As one oldtimer put it, "We traded four saloons and a calaboose for two fine churches, a good school, and peace of mind."

The concrete jail was torn-down in 1964 to make way for a new 874-square-foot post office on the corner of Ward Street and Route 148.

The town of Energy got its name from Herb Taylor Sr., who called the coal mined at Taylor 1 & Taylor 2, "Energy Coal."

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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