By Richard G. Biever
Spending a night or weekend in jail probably isn’t high on most people’s bucket lists … unless the stay’s at the Old Jail Inn in Rockville.
The inn is literally the old Parke County pokey … hoosegow … the slammer … the calaboose … or “the Rock,” as TV’s Deputy Barney Fife might have called it. But from Girl Scouts to motorcycle mamas, newlyweds to grandparents (with the grandkids in tow), folks have found the jail’s accommodations a fun and unique place to stay ever since the jail building was converted to an inn some 12 years ago.
“People come here for the unique experience … to have fun doing something you just can’t do every day,” said Patty Hawley, who bought the inn from its original owner and developer earlier this year. “How many jails can you spend the night in — and not because you did something wrong?” she asked.
The Old Jail Inn offers five cell-block rooms in the building that housed the Parke County Sheriff’s office and jail from 1879 to 1998. Choose from the John Dillinger, Al Capone, Thelma & Louise, Elvis Jailhouse Rock, and Jesse James cells. If a jail cell isn’t your thing, try one of the inn’s four suites with more privacy and comforts of home that still have the barred doors of former holding cells.
The inn was voted among the Top 10 Best Unique Sleeps in Indiana last year by readers of the VisitIndiana.com website.
After Parke County moved its jail to a new facility in 1998, the old office and jail on the eastside of the courthouse square sat empty for about 10 years. Then, when Parke County resident Debra Olson went to purchase just an old iron barred door and window, the county offered her the deed to the whole works. Turning lemons to lemonade, she cleverly and creatively converted it into the kitschy fun place to stay. She ran the inn for about a dozen years until selling it to Hawley and Hawley’s significant other, Troy Riggs, early this year.
Hawley, 67, a retiree from the U.S. Postal Service, and Riggs, 61, who owned a nostalgia/antique store, moved from their homes in Reno, Nevada, to Rockville.
“My boyfriend and I wanted to get out to the Midwest in a small town like this and just try something different,” Hawley said. “We feel a little safer here: smaller town, nicer people, not so crazy.”
The inn keeps her busy she said, but she’s loving her first months as innkeeper, er, jailer, and Riggs was able to continue selling his nostalgic signboards and memorabilia down the street.
Hawley said she doesn’t plan any changes for the inn, and the inn continues hosting the “Drunk Tank Winery” — a quaint wine tasting venue in the basement. Trina Poynter continues offering samplings of various wines from around the world with her entertaining humor and wit. Hawley noted that although the inn doesn’t produce its own wine, Huber Winery from Southern Indiana produces a medium-bodied Concord-Merlot blend exclusively for the Old Jail Inn.
Visitors to the inn will find its white painted walls serve as the guestbook and are encouraged to leave their own versions of “Kilroy was here.” The walls are covered in graffiti, doodles, poems and notes about the guests’ stays in “the slammer.” Though none of the graffiti remains from the building’s original guests (real inmates), a cross, said to be carved into the floor of the cell block by an inmate who found Christ while incarcerated and wanted to share his newfound faith, is still visible.
Some of the messages left by guests are sweet short notes; some are like diaries of what brought the person to the inn; some are about hearing the ghostly plodding of the night watchman’s boots on the cellblock floor and other unaccountable sounds in the night.
Some of the graffiti touches on politics, which of course, brings a response from others. And Hawley admits not all the graffiti may be suitable for a general audience. “Most people put great things because people come here, and they just really have fun. Some people get a little political. I tell people before they come that guests sign the walls, and some of it’s not kosher. They know that when they come.”
In just the short time she and Riggs have owned the inn, she said folks have come from Missouri, Michigan, … all parts of the U.S. One Girl Scout troop came from the Iowa/Illinois border for a weekend. She said that was a mystery trip for the girls who didn’t know they’d be spending the night in a jail. The girls had a blast, she said. They really enjoyed trying on the traditional black-and-white horizontal striped jailbird tops and orange prison garb hanging alongside Parke County Sheriff’s Deputy shirts on a rack on the cellblock and getting photos.
Hawley said guests checking in sometimes joke about visiting the Drunk Tank in the basement and then being able to stumble upstairs to their cell. They all refer to this as “pulling an ‘Otis Campbell,’” a reference to the town drunk on the old Andy Griffith Show who let himself in and out of jail at will. And while the Old Jail Inn is a fun and friendly place like Mayberry, returning guests, or “repeat offenders,” as they are called, need to check back in first. And, sorry, Otis, during Parke County’s Covered Bridge Festival each October, reservations are a must.
Old Jail Inn
127 S. Jefferson St., Rockville, IN 47872
765-592-6737 or 217-808-1309
RICHARD G. BIEVER is editor of Indiana Connection
Check out these other notable inns!
Patoka Lake Winery is now offering overnight accommodations attached to its tasting room, gift shop and wine production facility. Unique to the winery are two beautifully decorated two-story suites converted from round silos. Three other suites are also available.
Lodging guests enjoy a complimentary tasting and souvenir wine glasses in addition to amenities such as a fireplace, jacuzzi tub, and kitchenette in each of the five suites. Meanwhile, the winery offers over 20 wines to choose from and has two event spaces.
The Silo Suites have an open upstairs bedroom, a fireplace with comfortable seating, a furnished kitchenette and more.
Patoka Lake Winery
2900 N. Dillard Road, Birdseye, IN 47513
For an unforgettable rustic camping experience, Tipis at Sleeping Bear Retreat won’t disappoint. Each Tipi has four cots with access to picnic tables, a shelter house, a charcoal grill, and firewood. Its location among 50 beautifully wooded acres in French Lick makes Sleeping Bear Retreat the perfect weekend getaway.
Campers should be prepared for the weather and bring sleeping bags appropriate for weather conditions since the tipis are not heated or air conditioned, bug spray with high DEET if you plan to go into the woods, food and drink in a cooler (ice is available in the gift shop), fire starting apparatus, fire starting supplies, and basically anything that makes you comfortable. (“Camping is supposed to be a happy time.”)
Sleeping Bear Retreat
2773 S. County Road 1000 W., French Lick, IN 47432,
Escape the chaos and stress of the modern world at Clayshire Castle, a medieval-style bed and breakfast in the tranquil countryside of western central Indiana where guests are treated like royalty. Many activities are available on the 120-acre property: Stroll through the gardens, wander the hedge maze, hike the hills, soak in the aromatic cedar hot tub, or get immersed in a good book in the library. Visitors can even try on a medieval costume to get into the spirit!
8780 E. County Road 75 N., Bowling Green, IN 47833
Overnight accomodations are available at two Inns: The Inn at Joseph Decuis is a meticulously restored 1910 home located in Roanoke within walking distance to the Joseph Decuis restaurant. It offers four rooms, appointed with period furniture and decor. The Joseph Decuis Farmstead Inn is located six miles from the restaurant on the Joseph Decuis Wagyu Farm. The Farmstead Inn includes a restored 1884 farmhouse, carriage house, and barn. It features six bedrooms, each with a private bath, a loft for meetings and receptions, and private dining.
Guests earn their keep by helping with optional farm chores before bedding down in restored historic digs that date back to 1884.
The Joseph Decuis restaurant serves up one of the best farm-to-table meals in the entire state.
Inn at Joseph Decuis, 492 N. Main St., Roanoke, IN 46783
Joseph Decuis Farmstead Inn, 6756 E. 900 S., Columbia City, IN 46725
CROWNE PLAZA in downtown Indianapolis was originally America’s first Union Station, built in 1888. Each space in the hotel has been converted into upscale accommodations and the station’s Grand Hall now serves as a ballroom with 60-foot ceilings and 3,200 square feet of original stained glass. Thirteen 1920s Pullman train cars have been converted into guest rooms named after influential people of the past. The train cars hold two rooms each and provide one of the most unique lodging experiences possible.
Crowne Plaza Indianapolis | Downtown Union Station
123 W. Louisiana St., Indianapolis, IN 46225
RILEY’S RAILHOUSE is housed in a New York Central Freight Station that was built in 1914. The Railhouse has since been restored and offers five different rooms for guests. Among these is a New York central boxcar re-repurposed into two separate rooms. The Queen Ann Caboose, a luxury caboose with Victorian styling, is a favorite stay for rail fans.
The building has been restored and updated with modern amenities while carefully preserving the integrity of the original architecture. The Railhouse is three miles from the Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park.
123 N. Fourth St., Chesterton, IN 46304
The Indiana Destination Development Corporation’s VisitIndiana website conducted a “Best of Indiana” campaign in 2020. Readers to the site were asked to vote on several categories; one was the Best Unique Sleep in Indiana. From historic hotels to jail cells and from B&Bs to tipis, the top 10 list included an array of incredible experiences across the Hoosier State.
Four of the top 10, featured in this article, were the Old Jail Inn, Sleeping Bear Inn Tipis, Patoka Lake Winery’s Silo Suites and Union Station’s Crowne Plaza railcars. The other six were:
French Lick Resort
8538 W. Baden Ave., West Baden, IN 47469
Charley Creek Inn
111 W. Market St., Wabash, IN 46992
Floating Cabins at Patoka Lake
2991 N. Dillard Road, Birdseye, IN 47513
6404 IN-135, Nashville, IN 47448
4175 N. 1200 W, Flora, IN 46929
Grant Street Inn
310 N. Grant St., Bloomington, IN 47408
For more information, go to visitindiana.com/best-of-indiana/winners/63-unique-sleep.