Old jail, untouched for decades, is a reminder of Charlotte's past

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's been said the Queen City has torn down a lot of its history, especially in uptown. Yet there is one place that remains preserved and hidden from public view: an old jail atop the old courthouse on Trade Street built in the 1920s.

When Meghan McDonald opens the door, it's like stepping back in time. There's peeling paint on the ceiling, dust gathered on the floors and darkness highlighted by small cracks of light.

"There's quite a bit of graffiti you can see here," said McDonald pointing to scribble on a pale green wall above a jail cell that once held two inmates. "Repent and ye shall be saved."

McDonald is the Community Liaison Coordinator for the District Attorney's Office, which occupies the renovated downstairs. She did not know the old jail existed prior to starting her job a few years ago.

The jail shut down in the 1960s and has barely been touched since.

"I'm a history nerd, so when I walk through here I think it's fascinating that we have this piece of 1920s Charlotte sitting on top of the historic courthouse," she said.

Inmates, long gone from the building, left enduring messages. One reads, "Blessed is the peacemaker for he shall see God, James Edward Brown, October 22, 1968."

Inmates drew images from the segregated times in which they lived. There are drawings of men with the phrase "black power" written beside them. The illustrations could be self-portraits or depictions of people they knew.

Space was tight with sometimes eight men to a tiny cell. There was little light. They were locked in behind heavy iron doors.

In 1928, the building opened as the new courthouse and jail. An old article from The Charlotte Observer says the most popular attraction at the grand opening was the upstairs jail.

Something about it still draws people in.

"It's sort of a dark piece of history but a very interesting one," said McDonald.

It's preserved, and is a reminder for the people who work in the offices below: do justice now, and always.

As one of the messages written in pencil reads, "Peace on earth. Goodwill, toward men."

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