By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It’s unknown who the new owner is, but the old Chatham Jail has changed hands.
According to Carson Warrener of Realty Energy Group, part of Royal LePage, the historic landmark has been sold to a buyer who is respectful of its history and intends to preserve it, noting a film group may be using it in the fall.
“It will stay what it is,” Warrener told The Voice, noting the new owners intend on paying homage to the structure’s significant history.
“The owner has purchased it as a legacy type property and has the intention to curate it, allowing people to experience and appreciate it for years to come,” Warrener said.
The jail was purchased by his family’s company, Warrener Properties, in 2018, to create student housing for St. Clair College. However, the pandemic derailed those plans.
The 173-year-old limestone building located on Seventh Avenue at the corner of Stanley Avenue – along with the newer Kent County courthouse – was constructed in Neoclassical style and completed in 1850. It was designed by Canadian architect William Thomas and features a balustraded balcony and a crowning cupola. During construction, future Canadian Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie laboured on it as a stone mason.
A tender for the company Brown & Baxter for 6,000 pounds – $4 to the pound, or $24,000, was accepted – to build the jail. The stones, which had to be cut and sized to a certain thickness, came from Essex County and were shipped by boat to Chatham.
There, the stones were laid on the riverbank opposite to the site and then dragged up the bank by horses and oxen. It was a heavy job, and teamsters and draught animals were busy with the work in late 1847 and early 1848.
Area criminals found accommodation at the imposing structure until its official closure in 2014. Court services were carried out at the site until they were moved to the new building on Grand Avenue West in 2003.
Today, people arrested in Chatham-Kent are housed at the South West Detention Centre in Windsor, which replaced both the Chatham and Windsor jails.
The Chatham Jail building was put on the market in 2021 for $2.1-million, however, the final real estate listing price for the structure was $1.34-million. Warrener said the actual sales price will not be made public.
- Information for the article is based on research by Chatham-Kent historians Jim and Lisa Gilbert