Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For Some Children, Clay Jail Was Home

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

For Some Children, Clay Jail Was Home

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Jo McTammany, County Line staff writer

Children living and growing up at the jail was routine for the 80 years the building along Florida 16 in Green Cove Springs served as the lockup for Clay County lawbreakers.

Chief Deputy Will Knight's family lived there the longest -- 17 years. The four youngest of the six children -- daughters Nita and Jerry and the twin boys Bobby and Billy -- were born in the jailer's residence.

The girls came into the world upstairs. The twins sang their first squalling duet on the first floor because sometime in between the warden's quarter were remodeled. When constructed in 1894, only the front two upstairs rooms and one downstairs were designated for the family. The rooms at the rear connecting to the much smaller jail housed the prisoners.

The Works Progress Administration built the new, larger jail and the quarters for the jailer expanded into the front structure facing Gratio Street, except for the booking and dispatch room on the northeast corner.

For the Knight children and their friends, the jail was a playground. They wandered the corridors conversing with prisoners in their cells. The boys, full of mischief, on occasion carried the large brass key that opened all the locks and was supposed to hang on a nail just inside the kitchen door.

The prisoners were mostly good men who worked hard all week and lost the battle with demon rum on the weekend. They baby-sat the children; cooked in the family kitchen and helped carry the heavy iron pots and water buckets to wash the laundry in the yard.

The school was just across the street and only a short walk home for lunch. One of the Knight cousins sought to take advantage of the proximity when he fled through a school window and dashed to the jail expecting his Uncle Will to save him from a whipping.

His mama, Mrs. Knight's visiting sister, met him at the curb, tanned his backside, marched him back to school and supervised while the teacher delivered her own discipline. …

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