Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Western Regional Jail
The Western Regional Jail in Barboursville was officially opened on December 13, 2003. It was built to house a capacity of 400 inmates from Cabell, Putnam, Mason, Lincoln, and Wayne Counties.
The proposed land for the construction site required the removal of one of the oldest cemeteries in the area, the Merritt Cemetery, which held many of the descendants of William Merritt, a prominent early citizen, as well as Malchor Strupe, a Revolutionary War veteran.
In 1999, as ground was broken, it became clear that the building site also was of Native American significance. Two different archeology groups were brought in, but it was declared that plowing and road construction had disrupted the site to the point where it did not qualify for historical preservation. Still, tools and pottery shards, and even remnants of a fire pit were discovered, and attributed to the Woodland Indians. The bulk of artifacts put the date at anywhere between 700A.D. and 1200A.D., but there is reason to believe that the area was used as a temporary campground way before that.
The HRC, an archaeological and historical preservation group from Morgantown also began "Phase II" in 1999, which consisted of surveying and relocating the Merritt Cemetery. In October of that year, the graves were officially moved to a new location a short distance away, and still on the original homestead property.
The team found 25 visible stones, and 15 buried bases or fragments. They also found at least 28 unmarked graves. There were 52 total burials that were found, and 19 of those were outside the fence.
The soil in the area was so acidic that not much was left of the remains. A few teeth, a button or two, soles of shoes, and coffin hardware were all that were left. These artifacts, along with the darker dirt (indicating organic matter) were put into pine boxes and re interred in the new location.
This is really the stuff that breeds ghost stories...of course, the Woodland campground became an "Indian burial ground." Also, it is a fairly accepted theory that spirits are unhappy whenever their earthly remains are undisturbed. Unfortunately, there is an added element. It would have been impossible to scoop up all the organic matter which was so decomposed, so technically there would still be bodies buried under the jail.
Almost immediately upon opening, staff and inmates alike began reporting strange phenomena. Voices and footsteps are heard when no one should be around. One inmate claims that he was shoved down, and someone caught him. He turned to see who had saved him from falling, and no one was there.
In another incident, an employee was asked by an inmate to bring him a shaving kit. Upon returning with the kit, the guard realized that no one was assigned to that cell. Cold AND hot spots have been reported within feet of each other, and people have said there is a negative vibe in the whole place, even more so than what one would expect in a jail. Interestingly enough, there have also been several deaths...a little more than what you'd expect in a jail less than five years old...one man allegedly committed suicide while being held for a minor charge, and at least two others died of apparent overdoses.