The old Hancock County Jail has been managed by the Ellsworth Historical Society since the late 1970s and owned by it since 1998. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

An Ellsworth historical preservation group is getting $200,000 to help stem the physical deterioration of the former Hancock County Jail.

The facade of the old Hancock County Jail, located next to the courthouse on State Street in downtown Ellsworth, has literally been falling apart for years. Netting installed on the south side of the jail is there to catch bricks as they fall, and signs have been posted warning people about the risk of damage to their vehicles if they park next to the building, which was built in 1886.

The $200,000 grant from Maine Development Foundation to the Ellsworth Historical Society will be dedicated to “the repair of masonry” at the jail, the foundation said.

Bill Fogle, president of the historical society, did not return a message Wednesday seeking comment about the grant.

Earlier this year, Hancock County commissioners rejected a request from the society to allow other groups to use the old jail as a way to raise funds or at least awareness about the building’s plight. The county gave the old jail to the society in 1998, but with restrictions on the deed that require the society to preserve the building and its contents as exhibits and as a museum.

Allowing other groups or organizations to use the old jail, which includes an attached residence where sheriffs lived with their families while in office, is not permitted, county officials have said.

Fogle said earlier this year that, in addition to the crumbling brick facade, the old jail’s slate roof also needs to be fixed. He said at the time that it likely would cost between $700,000 and $800,000 to make all the needed repairs to the building, but that declining membership at the society has made fundraising difficult.

The former jail has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2008, according to the Ellsworth Historical Society website. 

As part of the same round of grants, the foundation also is giving $48,000 to the Porter Memorial Library in Machias to fund the addition of an elevator that will make the library accessible to people with disabilities.

Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of the foundation, said Tuesday that the ultimate aim of the grants is to help improve the economic vitality of the local downtowns.

“Even in difficult economic times, rehabbing our historic properties boosts the long-term prospects for sustaining businesses and jobs in our downtowns,” Breen said. “These grants enable downtown historic building owners to be good stewards of their buildings and drive economic development.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....