Visit the Mysterious & Haunted Wayne County Jail & Museum in Lyons, NY
Just like the rest of Upstate New York, Wayne County is filled with its own spooky stories and lingering spirits. The old county jail is the site of the only legal execution in the county, after all. Spirits have been seen, heard, and even felt at various locations. Because of this, country residents take advantage of dark tourists with special events during October. But there are still exhibits to keep visitors entertained year-round. So take a trip to Lyons, NY and explore the Museum of Wayne County, located at the former Wayne County Jail.
Thank you to the folks at the Haunted History Trail of New York and Wayne County Tourism for inviting me to visit.
The History of the Wayne County Jail
Located in the small town of Lyons, NY, the Museum of Wayne County resides in the former home of the Wayne County Jail and sheriff’s residence. The jail contained 24 cells and was in operation from 1856 until 1960. Yes, 1960. You can only imagine the conditions that the jail cells were in after 100+ years.
While having the sheriff and his family live in the same building seems unreal today, it was common at the time. According to the museum, “The presence of the sheriff and his family was meant to be a positive role model for the prisoners.” But it was still important to keep the affairs separate. So while the family used the front door and left side of the house, police business was conducted through the back door.
Now the building serves as a museum honoring the people, culture, and history of Wayne County. That includes the jail in its original state.
Visiting the Wayne County Jail
Step inside the doors of the Museum of Wayne County, and you’ll feel like you’re in an old Victorian home. But open the door to your right, and you’ll be transported into an old jail. To be honest, I was taken aback when the door swung open to reveal concrete prison cells behind the wallpapered walls.
The two cell blocks still exist at the museum. And the original 4-foot by 9-foot cells, many still with cots, remain. Step inside them if you dare.
As you walk through the cell block at the front of the building, you’ll notice drawings and writing on the walls. Yes, they are original markings from the prisoners that were housed there. The other thing worth noting is the large wooden scaffold. That scaffold was part of the gallows used during the only legal execution ever performed in Wayne County. In the far corner of the cell block is a wooden chair, made from those same gallows.
In the back cell block, the jail remains in its original two-story design, with cells stacked on top of each other. The county divided the front cell block into two separate floors in 1948 to accommodate a separate space for women.
At the back of the row of cells is the original washroom and toilets. On my visit that’s where I felt a very eerie energy. On the prison walls you’ll find more drawings, including a calendar that one prisoner used to mark his time in jail.
The Hanging of William Fee
On September 26, 1859, the body of a woman was found in the nearby town of Galen. Witnesses say they saw William Fee and another man (Thomas Muldoon) with the woman the night before. Fee fled the area, but police tracked him down in New York City. He was brought back to Lyons, charged with murder, and put on trial. As such a unique and high profile case for the town, residents flocked to the trail. Some citizens even sold their seats to other people so they could hear the case. The final verdict? Guilty.
On February 3, 1860, William Fee was sentenced to death by hanging. For the execution, gallows were constructed in the front cell block. And the county sold tickets to watch the execution. On March 23, 1860 at 1:30pm, William Fee was the first and only legally executed person ever in Wayne County. 100 people purchased tickets to watch the hanging inside the jail. Plus an additional 2,000 people gathered outside. Nevertheless, William maintained his innocence until his very last breath.
Other Famous Wayne County Prisoners
John Johnson – 1885: Arrested for burglary and sentenced to 10 years at Auburn Prison. When he received his sentence, he threw an inkwell at the judge. So upon his release, he was sentenced to an additional 8 years. Back in Auburn, he murdered a fellow prisoner and injured three others. As a result, he was the first person electrocuted in Auburn’s electric chair.
Sam Williams & Jasper Newport – 1888: Arrested for the murder of Jim Hall at Sodus Point. Williams was found guilty, yet later set free. But Newport served 5 years for the crime.
Olive Curtis Perry – 1892: Perry gained notoriety for his train robbing, stealing cash and jewels from multiple trains. His most notable robbery was from a train in Lyons, NY. Perry’s capture was the result of difficult manhunt, following erratic train cars, several gun shots, and a search through a nearby swamp. He was then sentenced to 49 years and 3 months in Auburn Prison.
James K. P. Ditton – 1897: Convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to 10 years.
Ed Kelly – 1906: Hailing from Boston, Ed Kelly and his mob were captured and convicted of robbing a nearby bank and murdering its watchman.
Rose Alloco – 1931: Arrested for killing her daughter’s father-in-law after discovering he was molesting her. The knife she used remains on display at the museum.
Is Wayne County Jail Haunted?
With such a gruesome history, it’s easy to believe that spirits still linger in the jail. Plus, staff members and museum visitors experience strange things regularly.
Perhaps the ghost of William Fee is sticking around to avenge his innocent death. That’s what many visitors and staff believe. Or maybe it’s other prisoners who want justice. Truthfully, I can’t confirm or deny their presence. But I can say that both my friend and I had a very heavy feeling as we made our way through the jail. A bit unsettling to say the least.
But prisoners were not the only people who lived in the building. Sheriffs lived there with their wives and children. Staff members report hearing children running up and down the upstairs hallway. Recently, paranormal investigators caught a young girl’s voice saying “mama”.
An episode of SyFy’s short-lived series, Haunted Collector investigated the jail.
Love haunted places? Take a trip to the haunted places in nearby Oswego, NY or a haunted stop on the Underground Railroad in Mexico, NY. If you’re really brave, spend the night at The Sagamore Hotel or Burn Brae Mansion.
The Exhibits at the Museum of Wayne County
The Sheriff’s Office
Serving as both the county jail and the sheriff’s home, half of the building contains reminders that a family once lived there. On the stairs leading down to the kitchen, you can see the footsteps physically worn into the wooden steps. After years of the sheriffs’ wives bringing meals the the prisoners, the footsteps remain carved into the building and its history.
In the room that once was the county sheriff’s office is an exhibit documenting the most famous moments in the jail’s history. A large glass display case contains various weapons seized from the prisoners. That includes an actual murder weapon – the knife Rose Alloco used. Mug shots and newspaper clippings throughout the room immortalize the criminals and their crimes.
In the front of the building on the main floor, you’ll find the gift shop. Next to that is an exhibit on local women’s history.
Upstairs, the exhibits showcase more of the art and culture of Wayne County’s history. One room displays children’s clothing and toys, replicated a child’s bedroom from 1856. In another room you’ll find glassware and pottery from Clyde Glass and Lyons Pottery.
Other exhibits display war memorabilia spanning a century and artwork from local painters. Then there is a room dedicated to local businesses, both past and present, that have impacted Wayne County.
Lastly, the basement houses an eclectic mix of artifacts. One of the most surprising is an actual Norse spearhead. It was discovered on the shores of Lake Ontario in 1929. There are also several sewing machines and even a large loom.
But one of my favorite exhibits has to be the medicinal cabinet and old doctor’s table. You can even see the horse hairs peeping out of a tear in the table’s cushion. In the glass display case are a wide variety of tools and treatments used in old medicine. Most of which would be considered taboo today.
Events at the Museum of Wayne County & Wayne County Jail
During normal operations, the museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10am – 4pm. Admission is $5 per person; $3 for students. Guided tours are available for $15 and events have varying rates.
Terror Behind Bars
Embracing the haunted history of the jail, the Museum of Wayne County hosts “Terror Behind Bars” this weekend on Friday and Saturday nights. The staff decorates the museum with fog, strobe lights, and other spooky decor. Then guests are invited to visit the jail transformed into a haunted house. So it’s a truly unique experience as you walk through the old jail cells and sheriff’s quarters.
Lyons Ghost Tours
Join a guided tour through historic Lyons, listening to ghost stories about the town’s history. The tours begin at the old county courthouse and make their way to the jail. Ghost Tours occur on Friday and Saturday evenings in October.
What’s interesting about a haunted place without proof? The Museum of Wayne County occasionally brings in paranormal investigators to record unusual activity in the building. Keep an eye on their website and Facebook page for upcoming public investigations.
It’s not all about the ghosts at the Wayne County Jail! The museum also hosts various educational programs throughout the year on the third Thursday of each month. The events highlight the history of the buildings and people in Lyons and the rest of Wayne County.