written by Joe Ganger, 20 Nov 2000
A story of a lock-up that wasn't and a lock with avoirdupois.
"The jail did service for twenty-one years, and when at last it was condemned, and the supervisors absolutely refused to make any further repairs on it, one summer midnight, in 1854 (August 14), the old relic went heavenward in smoke, except such portions of it as had sufficient avoirdupois to remain on terra firma. There were three prisoners confined in it at the time, one of whom, named De Forest, set it on fire, as supposed, the incendiary losing his life thereby, and the others escaping from the burning building, but not from custody.
The old lock, weighing some twenty-five pounds, is now in the possession of Orlando J. Fast, Esq., prosecuting attorney of the county, who bought it of some boys who had fished it out of the St. Joseph, near Mendon. How the relic came there is a question yet to be answered. The lock was a most ingeniously-wrought combination of wards and bolts, made by E. C. White, the gunsmith of the village, and none but an expert locksmith could pick it, even with the key, when the combination was once fully set, being as fully proof against a rapid entrance into, as a sudden exit from the jail.
White drew the plans and combination mostly, and, Judge Conner supervised the work. The jail was built by a few persons mostly, notwithstanding the order of the supervisors for its erection, and, when first occupied, would not keep prisoners inside of its walls only so long as they chose to stay. It was afterwards refitted thoroughly, and was a secure fortress for the keeping of criminals. A certain criminal who had broken out of every jail in the county in which he had been confined, and arrested, was safely kept after the old lock was put on the jail, and was convicted and sent to the Jackson penitentiary, from which he soon afterwards made his escape. He kept clear of St. Joseph county after that."