The architectural design of Austin County Jail, built in 1896 in the fortress-like Romanesque Revival style, projects authority, power, and endurance – traits meant to discourage scofflaws and criminals from perpetrating unlawful infringements and crimes throughout the region. Located in Bellville, Austin County seat, the imposing three story structure, with a fourth-floor tower serving as gallows, appeared to accomplish the task throughout its service as jail with the exception of the occasional prisoner, including the very unlucky Gus Davis who, in 1901, hung for the murder of fellow citizen Herman Schlunz.
Today, this historic landmark provides a home for the Austin County Jail Museum. The museum’s contents reflect the entirety of Austin County’s past, not just its criminals’ exploits. The museum houses an archive of material covering Austin County, perhaps one of the state’s most event-filled counties in Texas’ long and momentous legacy. But the impressive jail building is definitely a competitive element for visitors’ attention. Simple but commanding, the structure is constructed of solid masonry, a deep rustic red hard-burned brick with contrasting limestone details. The gallows tower rises to a pyramid roof topped by a decorative ornament. The building was named a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1976, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Austin County’s elaborate Second Empire style courthouse nearby, built in 1888, wasn’t so lucky. It burned in 1960.