Readers of Columbus newspapers -- of which there were several -- on May 9, 1887, were treated to one of those stories that incited either amusement or disparagement, or perhaps a bit of both.

Local reporters told a tale -- buried in the back pages -- that pointed out the longstanding problem of keeping people in jail when the jail's walls, bars and wardens didn't do their jobs.

One paper summed up the situation with bold headlines: "JAIL DELIVERY -- Six prisoners escape from county Bastille. They unlock their cells and saw through the bars in the windows -- Blankets used for ropes -- How the noise was deadened -- Going through a small hole."

The story continued in detail as to how the six men waited until nightfall, chose a barred window leading to a nearby darkened alley and enlisted the help of a "trusty" who unlocked their cells and escaped with them. The escapees then were presumed to be "hiding away very quietly, or rapidly placing as much distance between themselves and (the) city as possible."

All of this took place from a building that was only about 20 years old, and was for the most part secure.

As this escapade pointed out, "for the most part" wasn't good enough.

Something better was demanded of the jailer and the jail -- and in a short time, something better came along.

For most of the early history of Columbus and Franklin County, an uneasy tension had existed between the firm resolve to secure the incarcerated and a lack of desire to pay for the people and the places to do it.

Frontier Franklinton was founded at the forks of the Scioto River in 1797 by Lucas Sullivant and a few other hardy souls. It was a year after the creation of Franklin County in 1803 that the first jail in the area was ordered to be built by county commissioners.

What, if anything, was done with malefactors for the seven years prior to this was not recorded. Presumably, they were simply run out of town.

Sullivant was instructed to build a jail with "logs eighteen inches in diameter and twelve feet long."

The roof and floor were made of similar logs; all were to be planed on one side so the interior of the jail would have solid, flat walls.

The door was to be solid and 2 inches thick; the jail had two 8-by-10-inch windows secured with inch-thick iron bars.

Sullivant received $80 for his work on the structure. Shortly thereafter, the jail mysteriously burned to the ground.

A courthouse was not built in Franklinton until 1807. At the same time, a new brick jail was built next to the courthouse. Both buildings were constructed with clay from a nearby Native American burial mound.

The courthouse was used until 1824, when county government was moved to Columbus. Thereafter, both buildings were used as a school until 1873, when they were razed to make way for a new school building.

In Columbus, county government met in rented and borrowed rooms and occasionally in state-owned buildings on Statehouse Square.

A small, brick, 1-story jail was built on Gay Street between High and Third streets and served the county for almost 20 years. It was reputed to be an unpleasant place, but in those days, when the village was small, there was little else on Gay Street.

All of this began to change as the borough of Columbus became the city of Columbus by 1834 with the arrival of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road.

In 1839, work began on a new statehouse for Ohio, and in 1840, county commissioners acquired the southeast corner of Mound and High streets. On this site, a new spacious courthouse was constructed with jail cells in its basement.

It soon became apparent that more space was needed, and an annex was built next door to the courthouse.

It also became clear that the basement jail was not so secure.

Nevertheless, it was not until 1864 -- during the Civil War -- that work began on a new, 2-story jail building of brick and stone. The brick entry and home to the jailer's family faced Mound Street and the stone jail ran north to south along the alley behind the courthouse.

It was from this jail, which opened in 1866, that the daring six prisoners departed in 1887.

In short order, a new sheriff was named and a new jail was built.

The new jail opened in 1889 and was extraordinarily secure. It served the needs of the county until 1970, when a new jail was constructed in modern glass and steel across High Street. The 1889 jail then was torn down.

It was a long journey from the log house of Lucas Sullivant.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.