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Old Paso Jail on 12th Street

Although the city of Paso Robles has colorful stories of Jessie James hiding in the surrounding hills, Paso Robles was a quiet town. In fact, there were no city offices except for the jail when the city of "El Paso de Robles" was incorporated in 1889 until the completion of the Carnegie Library in the City Park. Council meetings were held in public restaurants or private homes. The position of city marshal was established with a man to assist him known as the "night watchman."

In the early days, the officers were contacted by "lung power" (yelling) or by ringing the fire bell. For the police marshal, the bell rang two quick rings followed by two more. Three rings was for curfew and for a fire the rings were different. The bell tower is still standing at the rear of the Main Fire Hall at the 600 block of 13th Street. The steam whistle on top of the cleaners (southeast corner of 14th and Pine Streets) was also used to signal the marshal.

After completion of the Carnegie Library in 1907, until the Taylor Hotel was built in the early 1920's, the Police Department along with the City Hall was located in the basement of the Library. The jail was located a few feet to the east of the railroad tracks on 12th  Street. The brick jail had two cells, each with a plank for sleeping. It was constructed of brick and mortar (including the roof), which was approximately 12 inches thick.

For unknown reasons (possible over confidence or ignorance), the builder did not reinforce the structure. A brick wall divided the building into two cells.

Early one evening a reluctant customer was lodged for the night. The customer apparently did not appreciate the accommodations the city provided and wished to go home, and with an unknown instrument dug through the brick wall. The next morning the city marshal found him in the adjoining cell. The had dug through the wall to the other cell instead of the outside wall. Not many of the marshal's customers were noted for their intelligence.

In 1912, Night Watchman John Rude was shot several times (believed by a transient) near the railroad tracks. After recovering, he went to work in the oil field, returning to duty a few years later to continue his employment until he was retired as a Captain in the late 1950's. He was a Peace Officer for the City of Paso Robles off and on for 50 years.

On May 7, 1919, Night Watchman David Nathan Morehouse (uncle of Elmer Morehouse, who was chief in 1950) was shot and killed by two burglars at 12th and Pine Streets. The suspects were caught in Santa Barbara and given life sentences. While in prison, one of the suspects killed the other and escaped. He killed four more people in the State of Washington, where he was captured and killed by another prisoner while in custody.

At the completion of the Taylor Hotel (three stories at the northeast corner of 13th and Spring Street), the Police Department moved into the ground floor in the eastern part of the building. This move did away with the full-time use of the jail on 12th Street which stood until the mid-1960's when it blew down. The [new] jail was next to the alley at the rear of the City Hall in the Taylor Hotel. The jail consisted of a room approximately 15' x 15' with an iron bar "cage" in the center and four bunks. There was room on top of the cage, and around its sides for other "guests" to sleep. At times, there were up to 35 prisoners. The facilities consisted of one faucet and one toilet, and the air conditioner was activated by opening an outside door to the alley. There was always a problem with heat or lack of it in the winter.