March 25, 2004
Ashburn-- Thanks to Interstate 75 and some clever marketing, this small town is evolving into a tourist attraction. I-75 motorists are accustomed to seeing Ashburn's famous big peanut, and now, billboards hail them to pull over and check out the town's newest attraction: The Crime and Punishment Museum.
"This is the death cell and we have our hanging hook and trap door," says Chamber President Shelley Zorn.
Built in 1906, this Romanesque-style building served as the sheriff's living quarters downstairs, and the jail upstairs, complete with hanging gallows. "We had two people hung here. The first one in 1907 and the second one in September 1914 and he was hung for killing his mother-in-law," Zorn said.
For 87 years, the old jail, housed all of Turner County's prisoners. A different era, when jail wasn't so comfy. "We had no visiting area back then, so the relatives would just stay at the bottom down there and you'd just yell down for visiting hour."
When prisoners wore black and white stripes, worked on chain gangs, and slept in cramped steel cells, just feet from the death cell. "They would wait there while they were waiting for the sentencing and later on they would spend their last evening here."
And now, visitors' to Ashburn's Crime & Punishment Museum can step into the past. "People need to know how far that law enforcement has come in this many years because it wasn't nothing like it is now back then," says former Sheriff Wesley Fiveash.
From the authentically recreated sheriff's living quarters, to the display cases filled with jail artifacts, great care has been given to detail in this museum. Carefully-recreated graffiti covers the walls of the tiny cells, giving visitors' a glimpse into the minds of those long-ago prisoners.
There's even a replica of Old Sparky, Georgia's long used electric chair, as a reminder of the ultimate punishment criminals could face.
At one time referred to by prisoners as "Castle Turner," this restored building has welcomed tourists from as far away as England, giving them a glimpse of jail life in the early and mid 20th century and putting this small town of Ashburn, Georgia on the map.
Ashburn's Crime and Punishment Museum has been open for seven months and so far, 2,500 people have visited.
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