LLANO — If the idea of going to jail makes you a little nervous, how about becoming a friend of a jail?
Sound a bit, well, strange?
Before you dismiss the idea, consider we’re talking about the iconic Llano Red Top Jail that sits just off the Llano River behind the Llano County Library on Oatman Street. For almost 100 years, the jail served as the county’s protector, but it now needs help to stay safely open its doors once again — this time to a more congenial public.
“It’s an iconic building,” said Frank Rowell, the president of the Friends of the Red Top Jail. “There’s a lot of history that surrounds that jail and the Llano County Courthouse. It’s an important piece of the area’s story, and we need to get it fixed.”
The Friends of the Red Top Jail is hosting its annual meeting 5:30 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Llano County Community Center, 2249 RR 152. The public is invited to attend and discover how they can help protect this historic landmark.
“It’s a very unique building,” Rowell said. “It’s a Romanesque structure, and they just don’t build them in that style any more.”
The county built the jail in 1895, and officials used it until 1982. People actually found graffiti dating to 1918 in the jail.
The jail boasts many attributes, but probably the most “impressive” part is its four-story gallows, which was built for hanging convicted criminals. But there is no record of the county every utilizing the gallows for its designed purpose.
Some claim spirits of former inmates and residents haunt the jail.
Since its closing, the jail has remained a landmark but has fallen into disrepair. In 2005, the city of Llano bought the jail from Llano County.
Rowell and others formed the friends group in 2008 to try to save the building.
In 2010, Preservation Texas listed the Red Top Jail as one of the most endangered historical buildings in the state.
Eventually, because of its foundation issues and other problems, the city had to shutter the building for public tours and events. Though the friends group and the city have worked to improve the structure, Rowell said they needed one more thing to happen to really open up funding opportunities.
During a June meeting, the Llano City Council approved a measure to convey the property to the Friends of the Red Top Jail.
“That was a big step,” Rowell said. “It’s difficult for cities to get funding for these types of projects, but, as a nonprofit, we can raise and get more money.”
The biggest issue facing the jail is its foundation.
“We have to get the foundation stabilized,” Rowell said. “There are 32 piers that need to go in and outside the building.”
Eventually, the Friends of the Red Top Jail would like to get the structure renovated to the point the organization can re-open it for public tours and events.
The Friends of the Red Top Jail will have barbecue from Cooper’s at the annual meeting. Rowell said all the group asks is folks bring a side dish or a dessert for the meal. People whose last names start with the letters A through M should bring a side dish, while those whose last names start with the letters N through Z should bring a dessert.
Go to www.redtopjail.com or call Rowell at (325) 247-4137 for more information.