Payson's Quest For Improved Jail Facilities

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All the hubbub about a possible new jail got me thinking about our current jail in Payson and how it came to be. This week, I give you a little bit of a look at that jail situation in Payson in the early 1960s.

"The grim fact is that the Payson jail is a joke!" That's what it said in a Dec. 7, 1962 Payson Roundup story about the possibility of a new jail. At the time, Payson's jail was on McLane Road just north of Main Street, where the old structure still stands today. Payson was growing. The Beeline Highway had become fully paved less than five years before and Payson was changing; changes that continue to this day.

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The old Payson jail.

Florence Greer's husband Cal had long been the Justice of the Peace in Payson. But in 1962, he resigned and Florence successfully ran for and won his seat. Even before she took office, she made getting a new jail for Payson priority No. 1.

Let's take another quick look at the old jail. The Dec. 7, 1962 Payson Roundup article provides some great insight into how "strong" the jail was.

"The present jail was built by CCC labor in the 30s ... and is about as hard to break out of as a paper sack. It has been condemned by the State Health Department as being unfit for human habitation. (In fact, the last inmate was a hound dog.)

"A large gaping hole exists between the jail cell and the sheriff's office ... reminder of a jail break last August when six men were imprisoned during the height of the rodeo revelry. In their flight, the prisoners also made off with the sheriff's records.

"Florence recalls that another time a prisoner broke jail during the night to go out and buy a six-pack of beer. He was back in his quarters in the morning. A 90-pound woman made good her escape with the aid of a case knife ... and so it goes."

At the Jan. 2, 1963 Gila County Board of Supervisors meeting, Greer made her pitch for a new jail, as well as a courthouse. Based on comments made by District One Supervisor Charlie Nichols at the time, it appears that Greer's pitch was well-received.

"We are looking into the possibilities of a new county administration building," he said in a Jan. 11, 1963 Payson Roundup article. "I would like to see a county office for road workers, along with an office for the assessor and a new jail."

Over the next few months, discussions continued on the new jail as the county worked on its budget for the following year. The front page of the July 19, 1963 Payson Roundup featured some good news for Florence Greer. "New Payson County Building Included in Tentative Budget" read the front page headline. $50,000, to be provided for the structure in the county budget, was likely to be approved on Aug. 5. Sure enough, the expenditure was approved. The Aug. 9, 1963 Payson Roundup gave further details.

"The facility will include a sheriff's office, J.P. office, courtroom, and jail cells. It is expected to be built here before the first of the year on county property located on Colcord Rd. between Main and First Sts."

It should be noted that Globe also cashed in that year. The budget provided $25,000 for a juvenile detention home in Globe.

Immediately following the approval of the budget item, bids were taken for the structure in Payson. According to the Sept. 27, 1963 Payson Roundup, Walsh Brothers Construction Company of Payson won the $29,667 contract to build the buildings. An additional $15,975 was doled out to an out-of-state company who was the only bidder for supplying jail equipment.

The jail was dedicated on March 14, 1964. An open house was held and the celebration kicked off some partying. The Payson Elks Lodge had a free barbecue dinner after the dedication, followed by a St. Patrick's Day dance. The ceremonies drew 1,000 people, according to the March 27, 1964 Payson Roundup and according to writer Doris Sturgis, it "was celebrated with all the fervor of a Fourth of July clambake... or the opening of new lands by a railroad."

Over the years, the jail and other county facilities located there have seen their fair share of modifications and changes. Unfortunately, tragedy has also visited them. I'll write in January the sad story of four youths who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the new jail, less than one year after it was open.

Now a lot of people might not the difference in cost between the current jail and proposed new jail. This is something that I felt compelled to check out in "real" financial terms. According to MeasuringWorth.com, the $50,000 spent in 1963 would compare to $329,196 if you use the Consumer Price Index to compute today's value. This amount does vary quite a bit though, depending on what measure you use. In fact, using the relative share of GDP measure, the $50,000 spent for the jail in 1963 equates to over a million dollars today. In other words? The jail wasn't too bad of a deal in its time, although maintenance costs can vary depending on construction quality.

It's also worth noting that the population in Payson has increased significantly since that era. The 1970 U.S. Census estimated Payson's population to be 1,787, a figure which was probably lower yet in 1963. Today, many people estimate Payson's population to be 15,000.

As the area continues to grow its needs grow as well. In the coming years, we can probably expect to see more proposals that attempt to replace aging facilities throughout Rim Country. This is the second fall in a row that voters have been presented with a proposal to reconstruct buildings; remember last fall, it was the Payson Unified School District with a proposal mainly centered on the elementary schools. Time plus growth equals the need for rebuilding and comprehensive reworking. It's a theme that permeates Rim Country. Throughout the region, old bars, restaurants, and homes are slowly but surely being reworked and sometimes rebuilt, as current owners often realize that they are better off building new structures, rather than continuing to pour money into the old ones. Just as the 1960s were an era of change in Rim Country as people poured out of the Valley, we may be in the middle of a similar such era that folks will be writing about in 40 or 50 years.

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