MONROE COUNTY, MISS. (WCBI) – Whenever he can, Larry Sykes takes a few minutes and stops by this two story building in Athens.
The unassuming building is the oldest standing structure in Monroe County The exterior bricks are original and likely were made by slave labor. The building was constructed in 1845 for 500 dollars and once served as the county jail.
“Downstairs area where we are at , I understand was the living quarters for the jailer and what not, upstairs was prisoners quarters,” Sykes said.
Sykes , who is 69 , has lived in the area most of his life and for years he has helped look after the building. He has repaired numerous broken windows.
“Probably kids that don’t know anything about history and don’t care,” he commented as he gives a tour of the boarded up interior.
Earlier this year he boarded all the windows. The self described history buff believes the former jail, which was converted into a residence after the county lockup moved, should be preserved .
“Well, it’s you know it’s part of history and I just hate to see the thing fall down,” he said.
The building is now owned by the Monroe County Historical Society, which is providing funds, along with county supervisors, to install a septic system and provide electricity for a caretaker .
“Try to get somebody to move a mobile home, or something in so there will be somebody on the premises to kind of keep an eye on the place ,” Sykes said.
There is also an effort to restore the historic structure, which was part of the bustling town of Athens, long before the railroad and river traffic moved development to nearby Aberdeen.
Estimates put a renovation at around $200,000. The state Department of Archives and History is interested in supporting the project, if the Legislature kicks in the funds. The county played a vital role in advancing women’s rights and supporters of the renovation hope that will prompt lawmakers to fund the project.
In the meantime, Sykes will continue his unofficial role of caretaker, hopeful that future generations will be able to enjoy this piece of history.