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.