LCRA, City of Bellville award $20,000 grant to historic jail museum
Electrical upgrades, new storm windows will boost ongoing restoration effort
Nov. 10, 2020
BELLVILLE, Texas – A $20,000 grant from the Lower Colorado River Authority and City of Bellville will help the Austin County Museum Association preserve and enhance the historic former jail, now a museum that provides information about the jail and its role in Austin County history.
The Community Development Partnership Program grant, paired with matching funds of $22,830, will pay for electrical system upgrades and the installation of custom-made storm windows at the jail museum. A Recorded Texas Historic Landmark built in 1896, the Romanesque Revival-style building housed the jail from 1896 to 1982.
“The Austin County Jail Museum first opened in the mid-1980s, but the interior wasn’t in the best of shape,” said Bruce Noviskie, chairman of the Austin County Museum Association board. “In the mid-‘90s, efforts began to restore the jail, leading to a campaign that’s still ongoing.”
The latest step involves replacing a three-phase electrical service drop, a main distribution panel and a subpanel to bring the museum’s electrical system up to city code. With the upgrades, the museum in Bellville can begin work toward allowing visitors to view the jail’s upper levels that are now off-limits because of poor lighting, falling plaster and temperature and humidity concerns.
“This grant will help us meet code, prepare the electrical system for the installation of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and help us be one step ahead in our campaign,” Noviskie said. “The museum board was very elated to get the news. We all know this one step in the process needs to be done, and done right, before we can proceed with the rest of our plans.”
The new HVAC system and storm windows will help lessen deterioration of the jail section, which includes six cells.
“We still have the original 1896 wooden-frame glass windows, and over the years, the windows have started to not seal properly,” Noviskie said. “When there’s a strong wind or rain, water comes into the interior of the jail section. Because there’s so much steel, with a steel floor and steel bars, they’re starting to rust.”
Currently, visitors to the Austin County Jail Museum can view the lower jail floor along with the renovated first-floor living quarters and sheriff’s offices. Noviskie lived at the jail as a teenager, along with his two sisters; his father, Bryan “Cotton” Noviskie, who was the jailer and chief deputy sheriff; and his mother, Pearl, who cooked the inmates’ meals.
The museum is open to the public every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and by special appointment. There is no entry fee, but donations are accepted.
Over the next few years, members of the Austin County Museum Association board hope the historic jail can be restored to the point that visitors also will be able to tour cells on the upper floors and see a restored gallows on the fourth floor. Noviskie said the gallows were used only once, on March 14, 1901.
“All of our docents and board members are volunteers and without them, this project could not move forward,” Noviskie said. “Everyone takes pride in the museum and is thankful for the LCRA and City of Bellville’s generosity.”
The community grant is one of 27 grants awarded recently through LCRA’s Community Development Partnership Program, which helps volunteer fire departments, local governments, emergency responders and nonprofit organizations fund capital improvement projects in LCRA’s wholesale electric, water and transmission service areas. The program is part of LCRA’s effort to give back to the communities it serves. The City of Bellville is one of LCRA’s wholesale electric customers and is a partner in the grant program.
Applications for the next round of grants will be accepted in January. More information is available at lcra.org/cdpp.
The Lower Colorado River Authority serves customers and communities throughout Texas by managing the lower Colorado River; generating and transmitting electric power; providing a clean, reliable water supply; and offering outdoor adventures at more than 40 parks along the Colorado River from the Texas Hill Country to the Gulf Coast. LCRA and its employees are committed to fulfilling our mission to enhance the quality of life of the Texans we serve through water stewardship, energy and community service. LCRA was created by the Texas Legislature in 1934 and receives no state appropriations. For more information, visit lcra.org.