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San Juan County's 113-year-old jail yields surprises

Dana Owens reroofs the cupola on the  original county jail, June 24 at the San Juan Historical Museum. The project is the first in a series of restoration projects planned at the museum. The jail reroofing was completed in time for the Fourth of July Pig War Picnic on the museum grounds. - Richard Walker
Dana Owens reroofs the cupola on the original county jail, June 24 at the San Juan Historical Museum. The project is the first in a series of restoration projects planned at the museum. The jail reroofing was completed in time for the Fourth of July Pig War Picnic on the museum grounds.
— image credit: Richard Walker

By Kerry Hartjen

It was like something out of an “Antiques RoadShow” episode.

While reroofing the old county jail on the grounds of the San Juan County Historical Museum, June 24 through July 3, Al Gonzales and two other men made an unexpected find in the rafters of the 113-year-old building.

“We were just working up there,” Gonzales recalled, “and I saw this little hole where it looked like somebody could’ve reached up and hid something in there.”

Gonzales’ curiosity got the better of him so he reached up and felt around, and discovered a small cache of unusual objects.

“The first thing they found was the bottle,” said Kevin Loftus, San Juan County Historical Museum director.

The bottle is made of plain transparent brown glass, with no labels or markings on it of any kind, and it is empty. Oddly, however, it is still tightly capped.

Intrigued, Gonzales kept looking and found four more artifacts secreted away, including a small drinking glass with black and red pin striping, an unopened pack of Pall Mall cigarettes, and a tiny, leather bound “Liliput” English dictionary which bears no publication date but is marked “Printed in Germany”. The miniature leather cover is stamped “Yosemite Nat’l Park”.

The most colorful find, however, is probably the battered brass cigarette case, also marked “Germany” on the inside and adorned with a cute, colorful portrait of a terrier dog on the blue-painted exterior.

No one knows who left the objects in the little hidey-hole, but Loftus speculates that they may have been put there the last time the jail building was re-roofed. That was more than 30 years ago.

Loftus said that the objects may eventually be put on display in the museum, along with the other historical artifacts.

Community Events, April 2014

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