An artist, a contractor, a lawyer, and a real estate agent walk into a jail …
That’s not the introduction to a bad joke, but to a community revitalization project in the heart of Marshall. When local ceramicist Josh Copus and his three partners purchased the Old Marshall Jail in 2016, the property—opened to hoodlums, highwaymen, and drunkards in 1905—had been closed a mere four years. Many such properties around the country have been converted into mundane museums, but Copus saw the opportunity for something more.
“What I want is for it to be alive,” he explains. “Museums are largely focused on the past. Our concept is to have something that honors the past and treats it with respect but looks toward the future.” How to do that? First, Copus and crew are carving tales of the jail’s history in stone—literally. These walls really will talk as Copus patches a century’s worth of wear using bricks etched with historical notes like the names and dates of Madison County’s sheriffs, including larger-than-life characters like Elmer Yates Ponder, who lorded over the county for nearly 40 years. A planned documentary film will share the anecdotes of local lawmen and outlaws alike.
Much of the jail will be preserved and repurposed; the old cots, for example, will become porch-side tables. The upper story of the building, which once housed inmates in eight barred cells, will become a guesthouse, and downstairs will morph into a hub for local commerce. Copus envisions the lower floor as a food and beverage establishment or general store, some creative endeavor that invites the public into the history—and future—of the Old Marshall Jail.