LANCASTER, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The City of Lancaster is celebrating, of all things, a building turning 200 years old this year. The historic Lancaster jail dates back to the pre-civil war era. Today city and county leaders are brainstorming ideas for reopening the landmark to the public.

The historic jail is a National Historic Landmark. The property is owned and maintained by the county. What was once used as office space now sits empty, but some plans could bring visitors from across the Carolinas inside the building with a storied history.

“History is important,” Lancaster County Society for Historical Preservation representative John Craig said. “The words are, ‘If you don’t know history, you are condemned to repeat it.’”

Two hundred years of history sits just a block away from downtown Lancaster. The historic jail has endured the civil war and two major fires. It was built in 1823 by Robert Mills, the first trained architect.

“It’s very distinctive. It looks Dutch, so it is very special,” said Craig.

While it looks spectacular outside, the inside remains empty. The first floor still looks somewhat like a house. That’s where the person in charge of the jail lived with his family.

The upstairs is where jailors housed the inmates, but it also tells the story of the jail’s final day. A burned ceiling column remains from a fire in December of 1979 that killed 11 inmates.

“The smoke was so terrible. As you go up the steps, you could make it to the first landing. The second landing, you couldn’t see beyond that. It was just terrible,” former police officer Steve Willis said.

Willis was among the first on the scene. He worked with investigators, who believe an inmate started the fire accidentally. Officials kept paper and other office supplies near the occupied jail cells.

“Inmate was smoking through a cigarette over there, and it caught on fire,” said Willis.

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Following the fire, the jail never returned to the downtown location. An emergency operations center took over the first floor. Word around town is employees were spooked by chairs moving and doors closing.

“Is it haunted? It could be. Some say it is. Some say not. We will see in the future uses of it if people report anything,” said Craig.

It has now been more than 40 years since the fire. The Lancaster County Society of Historic Preservation members hope to present plans shortly that will make the old jail into a visitor’s center.