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HAUNTED? Unlocking the secrets of Tioga County’s former jail

OWEGO (WBNG) — In the heart of downtown Owego secrets of a dark past are locked away.

Tioga County Historian Emma Sedore explains the former Tioga County Jail was built in 1823 and then went through three more transformations. One in 1851, another in 1882 and finally another one was built in 1910 because of the poor conditions in 1882.

“It was a mess, they said it didn’t meet any of the regulations. It was dark and unsanitary, the prisoners weren’t separated by age or for the reason they were there,” she said when referring to the jail built in 1882.

She says by the 1990’s county legislatures voted to move the jail entirely. That led to the creation of the facility along Route 38.

However, the former jail had a dark past.

“They had the first hanging, the first and only hanging in Tioga County, she said.

On January 21, 1880 Daniel Searles was hanged in the back of the jail for the murder of a Newark Valley farmer. Sedore says if you had a ticket, you could attend the hanging.

A newspaper article from the Owego Gazette the following day described the hanging. In part it read, “after his sentence, until his last moment upon earth, he appeared indifferent as to his fate.”

Sedore says that wasn’t the only death in the jail’s history.

“In the 1910 jail, I think there were two deaths. One was a young guy, he set himself on fire during the wee early morning. He set papers on fire, well by the time the sheriff found him, it was too late, and he died, burned to death,” she said.

She says a second person took his own life.

This haunting past leave some to believe the inmates never truly left. Sedore says she’s heard the rumors of unexplained experiences from workers and patrons.

“I met a girl once who showed me a photograph of the jail and it was the upper window and she said look at this picture, and there’s somebody looking out of the window, it’s like a ghost,” she said.

Although she doesn’t believe in haunting spirits herself, Sedore says it doesn’t mean the stories can’t be true.

“If you believe it, if you think you hear it or see it, maybe you can see something I can’t,” she said.

The property has since been purchased by Bruce Nelson who developed it while preserving some of the original jail.

Now, it’s home to apartments and businesses which have included the Jail House Restaurant and Calaboose Grille. Nelson says the restaurant space inside is currently available for lease.

Jackie Prager

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