As weird as this sounds, one of the best ways to learn the history of any town you may be visiting is to spend some time in jail! Of course, we aren’t trying to get you in trouble when we say this; we just mean a tour of the town’s first jail is fun, informative, and potentially creepy—many old jails are haunted by the ghosts of former tenants! Ojai Jail, which is currently located in the Cold Spring Canyon Tavern near Sana Barbara, CA was once an impenetrable fortress in the town of Ojai. Today, when you visit the tavern, you have an opportunity to experience what life in the “big house” used to be like!
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Built in 1873 by Sheriff Andrew Van Curen, the Ojai Jail was a simple construction of thick boards and iron spikes put together in such a way that no one was ever able to escape. On the inside, there were two cells guarded by iron doors, reaching maximum capacity at 11 “tenants.” Sheriff Van Curen was constable for a very long time, and as such, saw nothing wrong with building the jail on his own property. When it was suggested that the town would benefit from a new and younger Sheriff, Van Curen responded by threatening to take away access to his jail. The town then decided to keep him on a while longer!
The Ojai Jail was constructed so well, it refused to die, and when Sheriff Van Curen was no longer around to voice his objections, the decision on what to do with the jail needed to be made. The city of Ojai rebuffed the invitation to allow it to be set up in Civic Park, and so it sat neglected and unwanted until the owner of the Cold Spring Canyon Tavern near Santa Barbara decided it was just what he needed to add that little extra something to his establishment.
After being moved across a mountain, this little jail made an appearance on Ripley’s Believe it or Not—because how many jails have you known to cross a mountain? Today, you can see Sheriff’s handiwork when you visit the tavern and have a beer while you’re there! We’re betting the original inhabitants of the Ojai Jail weren’t able to do that!
Book your luxury Paradise Retreats vacation home today and discover the historic side of Santa Barbara while being thankful you get to sleep in a comfortable bed instead of a hard jail cot in an 1800’s cell!