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The near-fully restored Brentsville Jail, once home to moonshiners, horse thieves, and murderers will be opened to the public May 13

The project to restore the Brentsville Jail has reached the final stage, with completion expected any day now. It comes just a few short years before the community will celebrate 200 years of history.

From county seat to small rural town, Brentsville has seen a lot of change during that time. The one surviving building that best represents the changing role of this town is the two-story brick building commonly called the Brentsville Jail.

Brentsville served as the Seat of Prince William County from 1822 to 1893 and the Brentsville Jail housed those accused of everything from selling liquor without a license to horse stealing, to murder.

When the County Seat moved to Manassas, the use of the jail changed as well. The Courthouse was sold and converted into a private school for teachers, in-turn the jail was refitted to act as a student dormitory.

Later when the school moved on, the jail-turned-dormitory became a private residence until it was eventually purchased, given to the county to be used as office space. Today the Jail is in the final stages of the stabilization and restoration project that began in 2010, which will see the building used in yet another purpose; a public museum.

The future museum will explore the people whose stories are connected to the building. The main orientation room will not only explore the history of the jail but also tie it to the history of the town of Brentsville and larger story of Prince William County.

The adjacent room will be a historically furnished Jailor’s Office that will examine the lives of the various jailers and their families who at one time lived in the building as caretakers. Across the hall will be another historically furnished room, a criminal cell, in which an inmate was famously assassinated.

The final room downstairs will include STEM-based architectural activities that will highlight the building construction.

The exhibit will continue upstairs featuring a historically furnished debtor’s cell and early 20th dormitory room. An audio room will examine the stories of some of the individuals incarcerated in the jail, such as abolitionists, individuals suffering from mental illness, female criminals, and others.

The final room will explore the African-American experience in both Brentsville and Prince William County through most of the 19th century. Two interactive kiosks will also allow visitors to examine some primary documents that are not normally available to the general public.

Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre is hosting a special Jail Grand Opening on Saturday, May 13, 2017.

Although the museum exhibits will not be installed by opening day, visitors will be allowed to explore the building and receive special tours. Also, special lectures will be offered throughout the day, covering many exciting topics. At 11 a.m., local historian Arwen Bicknell will talk about her new book: Justice and Vengeance Scandal, Honor and Murder in 1872 Virginia, which highlights a murder that took place in the Brentsville Jail.

At 1 p.m., Dr. Sherri Huerta will explore the African-American history of the building with “’Remanded to Jail’: How Enslaved Persons Experienced Life and Death in the Brentsville Jail.”

Finally, at 3 p.m. local historian Morgan Breeden will talk about his experience living in the jail when it was his family’s private residence.

The dedication begins at 10 a.m. and programs run through 4 p.m.

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