Lewiston jail once held brawlers now holds Christmas decor

Lewiston Mayor Kelly Field, on his third term as mayor, opens the outer door to the city jail at one time used to hold the city's troublemakers.

LEWISTON – There has been a lot written about the Lewiston movie theater, an unusual thing for a municipal building. Built in 1935, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Eighty seven-year-old Willard (Soup) Jessop stands next to a doctors buggy he picked up to enhance his collection of historical memorabilia.

The jail, attached to the back of the building at 29 South Main, may be equally as intriguing to some. The place that held prisoners in the past is still in use today, not to incarcerate lawbreakers, but to store the city’s Christmas décor.

The old jail has one barred door entrance with an old fashion key to get in to it and two cells. The total structure is about 15 feet square.

We used to go peek into the jail after the Fourth of July celebration to see who had been locked up,” said 87-year-old Willard (Soup) Jessop. “People would get drunk and get into fights and knock each other around then get thrown into jail.”

The jail is still an intriguing attraction to kids, who come by to take a quick look through its barred window. It must have been a pretty rough place to stay, with no air-conditioning and a cement floor.

The lock on the door of the Lewiston City jail hasn’t changed since it was built in the mid-1930’s.

“Soup” got his nickname when he was in elementary school and people still call him that today.

“My dad was the principal when I was in school and kids would tease me and say Jess Soup for my name,” he said. “It used to bother me and the more it bothered me the more they would use it. It just stuck.”

A former Sky View High School history/psychology teacher, Jessop has pretty much lived in Lewiston his whole life. He can drive about town and give the history of almost every house. He is a historian, as well as a former high school teacher. He collects a few things to preserve the past and give people a sense of what life was like generations ago in the small rural towns of Utah and southern Idaho.

“Back then, the Fourth of July was a big holiday. They had concession stands, boxing, wrestling matches and horse races,” he said. “It was a big to-do.”

The old train station, now a home, also conjures up memories of the electric train that went from Preston to Hyrum. Not only did it haul people, it hauled freight.

The 15-foot square jail is attached to the back of the Lewiston City building and was used to cool down drunks and brawlers early on in the town’s history.

The population of the border city hasn’t changed much over the years. It had about 1,800 residents when Jessop was younger, and has about 1,800 now.

He said the well-known theater building was built just after he was born and the dances in the ballroom next to the movie theater were magical.

”They would hold the Harvest Ball, the Gold and Green Balls and the Sugar Ball dance, after the campaign of the sugar company, in the city’s ballroom,” he said. “They had live bands on the stage and a hat and coat check place as you entered the ballroom.”

One summer they turned the ballroom into a roller-skating rink, he said.

“We held our church meetings in the theater when the church was being remodeled,” he said. “And the library was upstairs, next to the theater’s projection booth.”

Lewiston City Mayor Kelly Field has been part of city government for over 20 years stands in front of the city jail.

The movie theater would show movies three day a week, Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, when they had an afternoon matinee,” Jessop said. “They left Tuesday night open for the church’s Mutual Improvement Association.”

He said kids would ride bikes and horses to Thompson’s Blacksmith Shop and tie up their horses. When the show was done they got on their horses and bicycles and rode home.

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