Chatsnap: Prisoners aside, the Old Jail once felt like home
Written By Kathy Witt
“Kentucky’s youthful, handsome and single Republican Secretary of State,” Caleb Powers was incarcerated in the Scott County Jail in 1900. His crime? Complicity in the murder of Kentucky Governor William Goebel.
The notorious Kendall brothers, jailed after a murderous spree in the summer of 1891, fashioned “a saw made from shoe metal and tools secured in the peg leg” of George “Peg Leg” Kendall to escape from the “old stone fortress.”
The Old Scott County Jail had its share of controversial inmates, but the circa 1890s Romanesque-Revival prison building may actually be more famous for the meals turned out by a succession of jailer’s wives in residence at the Jailer House than its high profile prisoners. In fact, a cookbook, entitled More Please!, compiled by the Scott County Arts Consortiumand created to raise funds for \
restoration of the historic jail complex, hints at an ongoing commitment in the jailhouse kitchen to provide homecooked meals
“It’s almost like being back home,” remarked one of the Old Jail’s prisoners
“We had to have white beans and brown beans. The prisoners also liked cabbage, potatoes and macaroni and cheese,” recalls Mrs. Humphrey in the cookbook’s preamble. Mrs. Humphrey (Gertrude Vance Beatty) brought her cooking skills to the kitchen of the 1870s Italianate-style Jailer House from 1959 to 1961, following in the footsteps of her mother, Ida Belle Covington Vance, whose husband (and Gertrude’s father) was the jailer from 1945 to 1959. “On Sundays there might be chicken or roast beef, in the evenings, sandwiches and two to three vegetables at lunchtime.” Gertrude usually made cornbread, sometimes a cake.
When Gertrude became the jailer, serving from 1959 to 1961 – the first woman in Scott County to hold the position –word of the meals she prepared spread beyond the walls of the jail. The “housekeeper turned keeper of the keys” was covered in newspapers and even cited by a Scott County grand jury for her “meals, manners and mode of running things,” as one Courier-Journal article noted.
Continuing the tradition of three homecooked meals a day was Oma Jane “Jenny” Wise, whose husband George was the jailer from 1961 to 1968. Jenny was known for her peach and blackberry
cobblers as well as her Sunday dinners and special occasion meals.
“On Sundays at the jail,” Jenny’s daughter, Mary Jane, recalled, “they had a feast. Mother would have a big roast, carrots, potatoes, green beans, corn and cornbread.” At Christmastime, “there would be turkey, gravy and the trimmings.”
Other jailer’s wives left their own mark in the kitchen and in the memories of many a prisoner, becoming famous for their egg sandwiches, chili, homemade yeast rolls and Friday night fried fish.
Recently, the Royal Spring Welcome Center opened in the Jailer House and, while the jail portion remains closed to the public, there is an exhibit of the Old Jail in one of the galleries that includes historical articles, photos and other memorabilia, including a tribute to Gertrude Vance Beatty.
No bread crusts and stale water here: More Please! may be purchased for $15 from the Georgetown and Scott County Museum
Recipe: Jail House Slaw & Beer Muffins
This recipe was contributed by Doris Covington. During Jewel Traylor’s tenure in the kitchen (her husband, Porter, was jailer from 1968 to 1977), Doris helped out from time to time.
Jail House Slaw:
- 1 16-oz package shredded cabbage
- 1/2 cup chopped sweet pickles
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots
- 1/4 cup sugar
- hellmans mayonnaise to desired consistency
Mix all ingredients together
“You never knew when you were going to have forty to fifty extra mouths to feed,” recalled Jewel Traylor, in More Please! Besides meatloaf and beef stew “not out of a can,” Jewell also served this to the inmates.
- 3 cups Bisquick
- 2 Tbsp Sugar
- 1 can beer
Grease muffin pans with butter and heat in oven for a short time. Mix the Bisquick mix and sugar. Open the can of beer and immediately pour into the dry mix. Bake at 350 degrees until done.
Find other tasty recipes from Georgetown restaurants here.