Subject of a restoration project, the historic Walters jail to be open for tours

Published 6:22 am Friday, April 7, 2023

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WALTERS — The historic Walters Jail, which has been the subject of a major stabilization and restoration project in recent years, will open to the public next Sunday for tours.

The jail, which is next to the Walters city park, originally started in 1903 as a wooden building, but a few years after that was changed into a brick one, said Chris Schaefer, wife of Walters Mayor Jim Schaefer, who is a part of the committee that applied for grants for the restoration and worked with architects on the project.

The jail, on the National Register of Historic Places, includes an office space in the front and a detention area in the back that contains one cage cell with a solid metal ceiling.

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According to a Minnesota Historic Properties Inventory form filed in 1980, Walters was platted in 1900, and by 1906 the population had substantially increased to warrant the city council to authorize the construction of the brick structure to replace the former frame jail building.

Local workmen constructed the jail with the cell shipped by rail from Michigan, the form stated.

“Most often the jail housed disorderly persons, but on occasion it provided lodging for railroad workers as the town had no hotel,” it stated.

The jail was previously restored for the city’s 1976 bicentennial but in the almost 50 years since had again succumbed to the elements.

Schaefer said the restoration this time around began with Jane and Steve Haukoos from Conger, who always had family reunions in Walters and who started up a fund for the restoration. She said they considered a nonprofit but opted against that.

At one point the city wanted to tear the structure down, so they came to Schaefer and her husband to see if they would get involved in the effort.

The jail through the Minnesota Historical Society is only one of two freestanding jails remaining in the state, the other of which is in Odessa.

So, about five years ago they applied and were awarded a grant through Minnesota’s Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment, initially to evaluate the property, before receiving a second grant for architectural drawings for the project.

Then came the third time to apply for the actual grant funds to fix the building. That application was initially turned down in  the COVID-19 pandemic but was awarded in December 2021. They started working on the actual physical restoration in 2022.

Schaefer said the $191,000 grant initially was to do both the inside and outside of the building, but because of some problems they encountered along the way, the funds primarily went to support a new foundation as well as the stabilization of the brick walls.

They worked with LHB Architects and Equity Builders, both of which have had experience working on historic structures.

Schaefer said while everything won’t be complete when the building is open for tours, people will be able to see the progress that has been made. Some interior work still needs to be completed.

They will also have photos of the restoration process on display.

The tours will coincide with the annual Walters Fire Department annual pancake breakfast at the Walters Fire Hall.

Schaefer said the committee in charge of the project included herself, Mary Gerber and Michelle Sauke.

Tours will be from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 16.