From Horseback to Horsepower: The Sheriff's Office
It's hard to imagine, much less judge the effectiveness of
law enforcement when the Blount County Sheriff's Office was
first organized in 1795. The first Sheriff, Littlepage Sims,
and anyone else on staff rode horses for transportation and
their jail was a simple log cabin. It's a far cry and quantum
leap from today's Sheriff's Office, which has the advantages
of computer technology, motor vehicles radio and cellular
communication to get the job done.
The Sheriff's Office was organized a full year before Tennessee
officially became a state. When Blount County was established
in 1795, one of the first items of business was swearing in
a Sheriff to police the community. Littlepage Sims served
as Blount County's Sheriff for one year. In 1796, Joseph Colvill
took over the Sheriff's post and served until 1800.
Historians believe the county's first jail was built somewhere
along Pistol Creek. It wasn't before the tiny log structure
was replaced by another larger log cabin jail. In 1807, the
county built a two story brick building to house prisoners
close to the spot where McGee Terrace Apartments are today.
This jail was on an appropriately named Jail Street and included
a gallows for hangings. Historians say four hangings took
place in the jail.
The Sheriff's Office also had "stocks" for disciplinary
measures which were located on the Courthouse Square. Offenders
of minor crimes would be exposed for public ridicule with
they were forced to stand in the stocks. The device would
lock their hands and head securely while passersby could shame
them for crimes such as cursing in public.
In 1907, the fourth jail was built at Harper and Cusick where
the First Tennessee Bank parking lot is today. (See Photo)
As the photograph indicates, deputies were still on horseback.
The Sheriff and his family also lived in this building. The
jail was inadequate and understaffed but the county leaders
had plans in the works to overcome the lack of space. They
bought the Cate Mansion and surrounding acreage in 1906 for
$10,000. This is the land where the Blount County Courthouse
stands today. Construction began and employees moved into
the courthouse two years later, in 1908.
At first, the Blount County jail was located in the north
end of the courthouse. Later, it moved to the south end where
it stayed until 1999, when the Blount County Justice Center
and Detention Facility opened on Highway 321.
Special Thanks to historian
and Blount Countian Dr. Elmer Mize for his valuable help in
compiling this report.