The Burlington Jail is the last standing government building in the city of Burlington, Ohio from when this community served as the Lawrence County seat.
Built in 1817, the original Lawrence County jail was constructed with logs and clapboard siding. In 1846, an inmate set fire to this original structure, destroying the jail. The next year, John Sperry built a second jail. Sperry used stone to construct this new structure. The new Lawrence County jail remained in use as a jail until 1852, when the Lawrence County seat moved from Burlington to Ironton, Ohio. The jail then entered into private hands, serving primarily as a home for various families. In 2001, the Historic Jail Committee acquired the property. This group has spent several years trying to restore the jail and hopes to open a museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad in the building.
A newspaper story from 1851 provides a glimpse into the jail's original architectural features and the conditions that prisoners endured. The story related:
The jail is nearly new, it being but two or three years since it was built. That it has sufficient strength no one seems to doubt. But it has been the subject of much complaint in regard to its fitness, especially in regard to its means of ventilation. This being the state of things we visited the jail to see for ourself.
The rooms when we were there, appeared to be in excellent order, for the purpose required. We do not believe in making the situation of criminals too comfortable and the prisoners now there have as much as can be justly asked for by persons deserving punishment from a violated law.
We think it an ill-looking, an ill-contrived building, without ornament or taste, or even plain neatness.
The whole building is so low that the ceiling overhead in the rooms can be reached by a short man standing on the floor.