At first, the building looks like any other house under construction. The attic has been renovated; one of the three original bedrooms is being transformed into a modern-day bathroom, and, at the owner’s request, a small fountain has been put into the brick siding near the home’s side entrance. The house seems like an ordinary brick one until the door in the kitchen opens to reveal an old jail.
Gary Kaplan bought the old Howard County Jail in November 2005 for $42,000. He plans to restore its historic look and convert it into a museum with the help of Fayette volunteers.
Kaplan, who currently resides in Los Angeles, came across the property on eBay and made a trip to Fayette to get a better look. He said he liked the home as well as the community.
“It’s a nice town with a sense of its past,” Kaplan said. “I just liked how quiet and peaceful it was.”
He said did not anticipate the degree of damage he found in the building. Kaplan hired Dancar Designs & Interiors in Columbia to help with renovation of the jailhouse.
The front part of the property is a house, where, in the past, the Howard County sheriff would live with his family. The home is being updated to make it more comfortable by present-day living standards. Kaplan plans to use that part of the house as a vacation home.
In the back of the property is the jailhouse. This part is being refurbished in order to maintain its historic look.
According to Howard County Sheriff Charlie Polson, the jail was last used in 2004, when a new jail was built.
Kaplan said that plans are in progress to convert the jail into a museum, once the house and jailhouse are finished. No formal organization has been created to help plan the conversion of the old jail into a museum, but James H. Steele, editor and publisher of The Democrat-Leader and The Fayette Advertiser, is the lead volunteer.
“At this point, it’s a loosely-knit federation of people volunteering,” Steele said. “We’re just waiting until the refurbishing is done before we move forward.”
Steele said that the jail museum will feature different exhibits highlighting Fayette history, including its railroads, old town businesses, pioneer settlers, old movie theater and Central Methodist University.
“People will donate many things like family objects that will reflect people who’ve lived in Fayette,” Steele said.
Kaplan said that he wanted to maintain the historic integrity of the property.
It is precisely this integrity that will make the museum successful, Steele said. “The jail has a certain draw, a certain pizzazz that will draw people to it.”