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Old jail to become museum

BURLINGTON – If all goes as planned, the old Lawrence County Jail will one day be a showcase of the village’s and county’s heritage.

Friday, March 01, 2002

BURLINGTON – If all goes as planned, the old Lawrence County Jail will one day be a showcase of the village’s and county’s heritage.

At last night’s commissioners’ meeting, Dave Milem of grassroots organization Concerned Citizens of Burlington asked the board for support in obtaining the jail. The group plans to turn it into a historical site as well as an Underground Railroad museum.

Milem said he spoke with Juan Lawson, executor of the Lawson estate – the possessor of the property – and he agreed to hold the jail for six months for a down payment of $1,000. The Lawsons are asking $50,000 for the property.

The group secured the $1,000 down payment through donations, and Milem asked commissioners to help the organization secure the balance through grant funds. Milem said the group has tried unsuccessfully for years to obtain the property and, now that it’s available, it is imperative it is secured not only for Burlington, but for Lawrence County as a whole.

"You’d be surprised how much support in the county we have for this," Milem said.

He added the community is getting help from both "up the river" and "down the river" as Virginia Bryant of Ironton and Betty Burcham of Proctorville have committed to the project.

Milem said that the $50,000 price tag may be "a bit aggressive," but added "there is too much history in the jail to let it go by."

Hariette Ramsey, president of Concerned Citizens of Burlington, added since the jail is the last remaining structure identifying Burlington as the first county seat, it needs to be put to good use.

"Burlington was the first county seat … and this is the only building we have left out of that era," she said.

Commissioners unanimously pledged their support and commission president Jason Stephens suggested the group appoint a committee to oversee the project.

Milem said he realizes securing the property will be just a small step toward the group’s overall goal, but feels it can be done.

"It’s kind of like eating an elephant. You do it a bite at a time," he said. "It’s going to be a big project, but it’s something we can do."

Milem pointed out that Burlington is rich in African-American history, citing the Burlington 37 Cemetery and the community’s involvement in the Underground Railroad, so the group feels it is important to include this aspect of Burlington’s heritage in the museum. A brochure distributed at the meeting said the Underground Railroad will be included in the project because it "is a link to our past that many can only experience in text books and folklore. The museum will provide everyone the opportunity to experience the trials and tribulations that were faced on the road to freedom."