Adequate for the Needs of the County: Harvey County Jails

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Despite the early history of violence in Newton, there was not a county jail until 1880. Prisoners deemed “real bad men”  were either guarded or taken to prisons in another county. Less violent, “ordinary culprits” were locked up in “makeshift cabooses or allowed to come and go on their own recognizance.”  In 1879, “after much discussion and agitation” the county commissioners decided a county jail was needed.  The proposition issuing county bonds for a jail was put on the November ballot.  The proposition passed 997 in favor, 712 against.

S. Chamberlian contracted to build “a two story stone building with double tier of cells” for $5,975. The jail was constructed out of large slabs of Florence rock. Also included, two reservoirs on the east end of the building to retain water from  the roof and an apartment  for the “jailer and his family.” The jail was completed in 1880.

Harvey County Jail, 1880-1917.

“Not the proper material to use in jail construction”

There seemed to be difficulties soon after completion. The contractor, Chamberlain, “lost considerable money . . . the reservoirs never proved a success and it soon developed that Florence rock was not the proper material to use in jail construction.” The rock walls created an unhealthy, damp environment.  In 1905,  “health officers . . . demand[ed] a new jail because of the poor living conditions.  When put on the ballot, the proposition failed in 1905 and a second time in 1908.

Another unforeseen difficulty was securing prisoners. A reporter observed that escape was not a challenge with “prisoners  able to dig out almost at will.”

“A Stinking Place”

The issue of a new jail was brought up several times between 1908 and 1916. The Evening Kansan Republican described the conditions in the jail and sheriff’s residence with the headline “County Jail is a Stinking Place.” The sheriff’s residence was dismal with poor ventilation and a single “flimsy wooden stairway” to the second floor creating a potential firetrap. The presence of bars, “jail fashion,” on the windows of the family bedrooms added to the danger. The editor warned that  “in the event of a fire which would almost instantly cut off the inside stairway, occupants of these bedrooms would be quickly roasted, like rats in a trap.”


The cell block for inmates was also sub par with no heating system. The only method  to prevent prisoners from freezing was the use of “coal fires in some ramshackle old stove.”  The system of locking the jail cells was also complicated and required that the sheriff lock and unlock all the cells at one time. The article described the cells as “almost indescribably filthy”  and not fit even for dogs.  The conditions were not unlike what “one would expect to find  the prison pens of the south during the civil war.”

In an editorial in the Evening Kansan Republican, editor S. R. Peters described the jail and sheriff’s residence as “insufficient, out of date . . . neither safe, sightly nor wholesome.”  In addition to the health hazards he pointed out that “the present county jail is not secure and does not compare with the newly erected court house.” Peters concluded that “the county is in a prosperous condition . . . and there is no reason to believe that the slight tax of two mills on the dollar will be any less of a burden.”

Although inadequate “to cope with more modern methods of criminals” the building served as the jail until 1917, and even became something of a landmark in the community. Finally in August 1916 at a special election,  the proposition to build for a new jail passed 928 to 460.

“One of the beauty spots of the city”

D.S.Welsh demolished  the 1880 structure and several other local men were involved in the “landscape gardening” which made “the jail and courthouse premises really one of the beauty spots of the city.” The new jail was open for use in October 1917.

In 1921, some improvements were made including new cots and replacement of the “soft steel bars . .  with tool steel ones, that are guaranteed against sawing.”  The reporter for the Evening Kansan Republican boasted;

“Even the fastidious Sedgwick county prisoners could find no fault with the county jail.”

“Adequate for the needs of the county”

Harvey County Jail, 1917-1964.

In 1922, the author of the section on  “Harvey County Jails” noted that “the present jail should be adequate for the needs of the county remainder of this century.  It is sanitary, strongly built, room, and ornate.  Ample housing for the jailer and family is provided. The elected county sheriff and his family continued the practice of living at the jail.  The last sheriff to live at the jail with his family was Earl ‘Russ’ Werner 1961-1965.  Werner was also instrumental in planning the new jail constructed in connection with the new courthouse in the mid-1960s.


  • Newton Daily Republican: 31 March 1887,
  • Evening Kansan Republican:  27 January 1908, 1 February 1908, 31 October 1908, 11 January 1911, 11 April 1911, 29 September 1914, 1 December 1915, 3 May 1916, 8 November 1916, 16 September 1919, 8 July 1921.
  • “Harvey County Jails,” Newton Kansan 50th Anniversary, 22 August 1922, p. 27.

“Slanderous Reports:” the Election for County Sheriff in 1908

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

On November 7, the people of Harvey County will have the opportunity to vote on several local issues of importance.  Today, candidates use a variety of methods to get their message out to the voters. Social media, including twitter and Facebook, can have a huge impact on results, both locally and at the national levels. The influence of television was experienced in 1960 and  the first live Presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Where people today rely on TV and social media for information in past years, local newspapers have been an important avenue for candidates.  The race for Harvey County sheriff in 1908 could be one example.

“An enviable record as a soldier, and his bravery, . . . is unquestioned.”

Avery R. Ainsworth was a respected member of the Newton community.  He served as City Marshall in the early 1900s.  In the bid for re-election in 1900, the editor of the Evening Kansan Republican noted:

Ainsworth “has always been on hand when needed, and as a enforcer of the law is cordially hated by the ‘gents’ that frequently float around the community living at the expense of the other fellow. . . he has an enviable record as a soldier, and his bravery . .  is unquestioned.”

Avery R. Ainsworth, Newton City Marshal, Western Journal of Commerce, Newton, Ks 1901, p. 8.

Evening Kansan Republican, 5 February 1900.

While serving as City Marshall, he assisted the County Sheriff on raids “made on ‘refreshment stands'” or “joints” to enforce prohibition.

Ainsworth Home, 1901. Western Journal of Commerce, Newton, Ks, 1901.

He also served on the Board of Education for the Newton schools in 1904.

Avery R. Ainsworth, NHS 1904 Yearbook, Board of Directors.

Harvey County Candidates in 1908.

In 1908, Ainsworth  announced his candidacy for sheriff on the Republican ticket. In the republican primary he faced W.E. Johnston, “one of the staunch and true republicans of Highland township.” In the August primary, Ainsworth prevailed to get the republican nomination for sheriff.

Evening Kansan Republican, 30 July 1908, p. 6.

The Evening Kansan Republican urged party unity. In the section titled “Comments Wise and Otherwise,” the editor S.R. Peters noted;

“If he [a voter] takes part in the primary he is honor bound to stand by the ticket nominated by the system, regardless of his personal feelings or bias.”

In the fall of 1908, rumors and controversy  swirled around Ainsworth and in October, editor Peters, sought to answer the critics.

Good Faith for Public Good?

He posed these questions:

“Are J.C. Johnston and Dr. Boyd opposing Mr. Ainsworth and other candidates on the republican ticket in good faith for the public good, or are they airing sore spots and seeking revenge?or airing sore spots and seeking revenge?”

Evening Kansan Republican, 23 October 1908.

Using more than a full page of newsprint, Peters carefully reviews the facts as he knew them in defense of A.R. Ainsworth and the “republican ticket.” He noted that it was important in this case to name the people involved to understand the motives.

  “These men claim to be republicans, but are outdoing all the others in their efforts to oppose a number of the republican candidates.”

“These men are leading . . . the dirty fight . . . against Ainsworth”

Who were the leaders against Ainsworth? Two well known Newton men, Dr. Gastor Boyd and J.C. Johnston. The editor gave some back story related to the two men. He noted that Dr. Gaston Boyd, was “a life long democrat until he was defeated” in a recent election.  It was observed that Dr. Boyd  secured a promotion for his son when he was Newton’s mayor and appointed his “own son city clerk.”

J.C Johnston was a Republican with a total of 12 years of service in various capacities in county government including County Clerk and County Treasurer.  The recently defeated candidate for sheriff, W.C. Johnston was likely a relative**. The editor of the paper noted: “after a long term in office, his [Johnston’s] luck changed.”

Johnston applied or ran for various positions from pay master in the general army to the superintendent of construction of the new Harvey County courthouse. He was not able to secure any of the positions and the editor noted that after not receiving the position under the McKinley administration “he abused McKinley.” In 1894, a suit was filed against him by  Harvey County “to recover about $5,000.00 in fees which as county clerk and treasurer he had failed to pay into the treasury.” The editor concluded that “by this time he was out with practically all republicans” further noting that “these are the men that are leading. . . the dirty fight . . . against A.R. Ainsworth for Sheriff.”

Boyd and Johnston charged that Ainsworth was “guilty of compounding a misdemeanor about seven years ago.” They claimed that Ainsworth

“accepted $15 from James Riley for his agreement not to prosecute said Riley for crap shooting and he received $50 from Thomas Berry about 13 years ago for releasing him from custody when he was wanted in Nebraska for stealing horses and sheep. “

We have investigated these charges”

Editor Peters set out to answer the charges. The first case was a muddled exchanged involving a forged check issued at Murphy’s Hotel and innocently cashed by Mrs. Van Aiken and a  man by the name of Riley who was involved in an illegal crap game in July 1901.  Peters was adamant, after talking with those directly involved, that Ainsworth had done nothing illegal. He summarized by noting that Ainsworth merely “recovered and returned to its owner the money obtained from Mrs. Van Aiken as a result of a criminal act . . . no extortion was involved.”

The second charge made by Boyd and Johnston involved the release of a man wanted in another state, Thomas Berry, for money.  The editor concluded that it was a matter of poorly timed information from the sheriff in Nebraska that led to the release of the man charged with stealing horses and sheep.

Peters observed that these events transpired thirteen to fourteen years ago and Ainsworth has served in “honorable positions in the community” all of this time. “Nothing,” Peters continues, “is heard of this matter . . . until late day when Ainsworth is a candidate for sheriff.”

Office of Sheriff

Even with the conflict, A.R. Ainsworth was elected sheriff for Harvey County. The November 5, 1908 paper noted that “while the majority for Ainsworth was not as large as his friends expected, it was sufficient to place him in the office of sheriff next January.” 

Principals Have Been Sued”

Ainsworth did file suit against Dr. G. Boyd, J.C. Johnston, and Joseph Hebert “for conspiring to defame his character on the eve of the election.”

Avery R. Ainsworth died at the home of his son, Clayton, in  Newton at the age of 76 in 1921.  Born in Ohio in 1845, he was in the 5th Ill Calvary, Co C during the Civil War.  He married Sadie J. Corey in 1870, and the family came to Newton in 1879. The couple had three children, but only one lived to adulthood, Clayton.  In Harvey County, he served as Newton City Marshall for several years, as Deputy Sheriff  for two terms and one term as Harvey County Sheriff.  He also served on the Newton Board of Education and was involved with the Episcopal church in Newton.


  • ** W.C. Johnston was likely a brother to J.C. Johnston, but at this writing (10/27/2017) it could not be confirmed.


  • Western Journal of Commerce, Newton, Ks 1901, p. 8.
  • Evening Kansan Republican:  5 February 1900, 26 March 1900, 10 April 1900, 12 October 1900,25 March 1901, 21 August 1901, 2 August 190430 January 1905, 15 December 1905, 6 March 1908, 12 May 1908, 5  30 July 1908,  5 August 1908, 23 October 1908,5 November 1908,  20 May 1921, 24 May 1921.
  • For more on the first televised Presidential debate: