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The old Windham County Jail

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NEWFANE — Windham County Assistant Judges Lamont Barnett and Carolyn Partridge join the Historical Society of Windham County in announcing the signing of an agreement to lease the historic Windham County Jail Building to the Historical Society.

As a contributing resource in the Newfane Village Historic District, the 1825 building will be restored and renovated by the Historical Society over the next year to become the society’s principal history museum.

Until recently, the Jail Building housed the offices of the Windham County sheriff, even after the jail functions were moved to Brattleboro in the 1970s.

The sheriff’s headquarters have now moved to the former Vermont Yankee building in Brattleboro in order to gain additional space for staff and training.

The assistant judges, who are responsible for oversight of county property, began considering possible future uses for the Newfane building, which is limited by deed restrictions and still contains many of its original cells. The society approached Assistant Judge Barnett with a proposal to conserve the historic building, along with the jail cells, for public display — a plan that would benefit county residents and visitors alike.

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For the society, this not only fits perfectly with its core mission of preserving and displaying county history, but it also solved a pressing problem of its own. Founded in 1927, the society is approaching its centennial anniversary, and in recent decades its extensive collection has outgrown its current facility. The current main museum, built in 1936, is no longer adequate for displaying most of the society’s significant holdings.

The Jail Building, with over 4,000 feet of space, will allow the creation of innovative and accessible exhibits, showcasing both the 200 years during which the building has served Windham County, as well as the even longer and richer story of this county, where Vermont’s permanent settlement and its independence both began.

As part of its centennial celebration, the Historical Society expects to raise funds to undertake the needed restoration work and the creation of new exhibits.

The grand opening of the new museum is planned for the 2024 season.

The current county museum will continue to house archival and genealogical materials along with related exhibits and research activities. The Historical Society will also continue to operate its popular West River Railroad Museum, located in the 1880 Newfane Station, which it purchased and restored several years ago.