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Hit the Road with Chet Garner

Doing Time

Brown County’s history museum lets visitors lock into law and order

I once was in Europe and wondered, “Why don’t we build more castles in Texas?”

But I was oblivious to the fact that there are already castles all around us in the form of historic courthouses and jails. That’s especially true in Brown County, where the old jail looks more like a medieval fortress than a place to dive into history.

I started my time-traveling adventure across the street from the jail at the Brown County Museum of History. From woolly mammoth bones to frontier homes, this collection covers every era of this corner of Texas between Abilene and Austin. I sat around the (fake) campfire inside a full-sized Comanche dwelling. I learned that Gilligan (aka Bob Denver) was raised in Brownwood. I also got hands-on lessons because this museum actually encourages visitors to touch the artifacts.

Most amazing was the story of Camp Bowie, which was one of the largest army training camps in the U.S. during World War II, bringing more than a quarter-million troops to Brownwood.

Things got especially interesting, and spooky, when I crossed the street and stepped inside the old jail. This lockup opened in 1903 and served Brown County until the 1980s. The smell of stone and rusted metal permeates every room. The ground floor, which was once the sheriff’s private residence, is now an incredible museum about Texas rule of law and includes stories of famous outlaws and jailbreaks.

Upstairs is where things got even creepier as I explored three floors of metal cells with heavy iron doors. I unknowingly stepped across the drop floor for the old gallows, which luckily didn’t spring open. If I was plotting a crime 100 years ago in Brown County, this simple tour would have quickly cured me of any ill intent.