Courting History: Warrensville Prison Camp

By Sam Shumate - Special to the Post

A prison camp for “Negros” was opened in Warrensville in 1928. Approximately one hundred black inmates from all over the state of North Carolina were incarcerated there. The facility consisted of a barracks, office building, solitary cell and guard shacks at the four corners. The camp closed in 1938 and prisoners were transferred to a new, modern facility at Buffalo. The old camp became the home for Ashe County Bridge Maintenance, a division of SH & PWC (State Highway and Public Works Commission) known today as NCDOT (North Carolina Department of Transportation).

The warden’s house and land, located across NC 194 from the camp, was purchased by J.W. Faw for $500.00. He said he had the papers that showed the house cost the state $275.00 to build in 1928. Jake added on to the original building where he and his wife, Mildred, raised a family and lived there the rest of their lives. Today it is the home of Brandon and Robin Miller.

In the 1940s I was attending Warrensville School across the creek from the bridge camp. The only thing left of the original prison was the solitary cell. It measured about ten by ten feet with an eight foot ceiling. Two tiny barred windows let in the only light. Us kids made up a game called “prisoner” and used the building for our prison. No prisoner ever escaped from our solitary cell without outside help.

After the facility was moved to Buffalo, inmates continued to raise potatoes in the creek bottom across from the bridge camp for several years. That was a time when prisoners worked to raise much of their food.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s prisoners worked on the roads as well as their farms. They were transported to and from their jobs on trucks equipped with cages pulling a small trailer with a guard inside.

NC 88 and 194 converged in the center of Warrensville back then and we often saw the inmates as they headed back to Buffalo. Many of them were skilled at making beautiful bracelets and necklaces from the colored dynamite wire they used in blasting. A friendly wave toward the inmates often resulted in a hand emerging from the cage and a piece of handmade dynamite wire jewelry tossed out. Colorful inmate jewelry was a serious status symbol in our school.

Today there are no prison camps in Ashe County. The Warrensville site is still home of the bridge crew and the Buffalo facility is the home of Weaver Tree Farm. Thus another chapter in the history of Ashe County fades away into the sunset of time.

By Sam Shumate

Special to the Post

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