By Canadice Town historian John T. Hopkins:
Earl Thompson's Jail

Page 3 of 9
Ontario County had a strong, intelligent Sheriff back in the days when I was a member of the Board of Supervisors. This was in 1954, not long after World War II.

The jail was a former house. It stood on Ontario Street, on the present site of the newer jail. Sheriff Earl ran the place with his wife as the matron, an undersheriff, seven deputies and a "stenographer."


Earl received $4,000 a year and the matron $900. He had the use of the jail as his home and the County paid $1,000 in maintenance. The seven deputies received $3,600 a year, for a total cost of $35,150 a year to the County in personal services.

Added to that was $6,200 for supplies, $9,245 for expenses and $3,850 for equipment. In these figures came the cost of running a jail, feeding the prisoners, maintaining a fleet of cars and the purchase of a new one, as required.

1961-81 Ontario Street.
Ontario County Historical Society photo.
[Scanned from Cindy L. Allen-Tucceri's history.]
John T. Hopkins originally wrote his Earl Thompson's Jail in connection with the opening in 1961 of the then new jail, shown in the image above, on Ontario Street.

The matron figured she fed each prisoner on $5.39 a week and in 1956 she served 28,258 meals.


At the beginning of that year, Sheriff Thompson had 23 prisoners and he finished with 27. The turnover was, as usual, quite large. He received 597 prisoners and discharged 593.

Most prisoners were male. They accounted for 97% of the jail population. Then, as now, the automobile was the contributing cause for most arrests and incarcerations. The usual drunk driving, speeding, disobeying traffic devices and accidents accounted for 74% of the arrests in the County.

It was this year that Assemblyman Bob Quigley of Phelps invited the Board of Supervisors to the opening of the New York State Thruway. Governor Dewey officiated at ceremonies near Manchester.

'Tin Can Jail'
The State of New York extracts tax dollars from its inhabitants, then uses that same money to create a bureaucracy which tells us how to spend what little money we have left. That was the situation in 1954. We had set up a reserve fund to build a new jail. In my first year on the Board it came to $340,019. When I left in 1960, it had grown to $500,000. In fact, a State Policeman went so far as to call our poor pokey a "tin can jail." He made the mistake, however, of saying that to a quick tempered turnkey while standing inside a cell.

"Tin can jail, indeed!" said the worthy Ontario County jailer, and slammed the door of the cell closed.

The text appearing on this page was authored in 1961 by John T. Hopkins, Town of Canadice Historian, now deceased. He served as Supervisor of his Town of Canadice from 1954 to 1960 and from 1984 to 1988.

Canadice Lake, Ontario County, NY
[From the Marine and Recreational Vehicle Division page of the Ontario Sheriff's web site.]

Well! I can tell you it took a Sheriff, the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, the governor and a newspaper editor to straighten out the mess, release the State lawman with the campaign hat and shiny shoes and to extract a grudging apology from the turnkey. Those were the days!

In the 60s we went into debt to build the first part of the new quarters along Ontario St. and recently added to it.

The Law West of the Hudson

In those heady days, action was less pussyfooted than now, it seems.

Once we had a little dust-up in Canadice and some angry citizens signed a petition regarding the road superintendent. They accused him of all sorts of illegal actions and sent the petition to Sheriff Thompson. Now Thompson was on the County Republican Committee and so was our worthy road superintendent and they saw eye to eye.

I asked Sheriff Earl what he did with the petition.

"Took it to the john and flushed it right down," he answered with a smile.

The Modern Operation

It was my pleasure to visit the present operation a few weeks ago, in the company of our Justice of the Peace, Mrs. Frances Knobel. The modem facilities are clean, bright and well ventilated. The staff is, I think, better trained and certainly the officers show a high degree of professional ability.

As with so many other aspects of Ontario County government, we are getting a better bang with our buck. The days of the "tin can jail" are forever behind us.

Previous page
Ontario County Sheriff's Office web site
Next page
Home Page
To the
History of the
Office of Sheriff
To web site of the
NY State Sheriffs'