Old Tobias Water Tower and Jail in Wilson, Kansas

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The old water tower and jail.

Behind the main strip on Avenue E in downtown Wilson, Kansas, a cylindrical limestone building with a conical top stands alone next to a parking lot. It may not look like much, but it definitely has a quirky history.

This is the Tobias Water Tower, originally constructed in 1907. The water tank on the second floor of the structure serviced area residents and shops. And starting in 1956, the bottom floor was transformed into a small makeshift jail.

The cramped area was used as a holding cell for prisoners, sometimes many at a time, until they could be carted away to the county jail. It served as a prison until a proper facility was built in 1963.

The nearby restaurant owner—rightly serving bieroch and kolaches in homage to Wilson’s status as the Czech Capital of Kansas—once explained that the city even allowed a local homeless man to live in the tower for a time. He rented the room from the city for $1 and made it work with only the bare essentials.

The structure is normally closed to visitors, but ask around town and you may be allowed inside, where you can still spot a toilet and grimy old sink. A barred metal door and windows keep visitors out—and in the past, locked any inmates in.