Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Lake County 150: The Lower Lake Stone Jail

The Lower Lake Stone Jail in Lower Lake, Calif., was built in 1876. Photo courtesy of the Lake County Historical Society.


In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Lake County this year, Lake County News is publishing a series of historical stories about the county, its people and places. In this week's story, Camisha Knowlton describes a story from the Mauldin files about the Lower Lake Stone Jail.

The Lower Lake Stone Jail was built in 1876 and is known as the smallest jail in the United States.

It is located on the corner of Highway 29 and Main Street in Lower Lake.

One of Lower Lake’s first stone masons, Stephen Nicolai, built the jail from local materials with the help of John and Theodore Copsey.

The Copsey brothers, thrilled with the completion of the jail’s construction, celebrated in one of the local saloons and became rather rowdy. Hence, the brothers became the jail’s first occupants but didn’t remain so for long.

The Copseys realized that they had not yet fastened the wooden roof down and, being tall men, they were able to lift up the roof and escape.

There is some speculation as to whether John and Theodore got themselves arrested for the sole purpose of being the jail’s first occupants. It would make sense since only they knew that if they were put in jail, they would not have to remain there.

One may wonder why a jail was needed for such a small town. The population in Lower Lake was at 1,000 people and quicksilver mining was at its peak. The Sulphur Bank Mine began mining quicksilver in 1874, and as there were jobs available, more people were drawn to Lake County.

The combination of steady income, liquor and disagreements made this one of the wildest times for Lake County.

As the population continued to grow, crime rose with it. There became an urgent need for civil order, so plans to build the jail began to unfold.

The Lower Lake Stone Jail, although small, has seen quite a bit of action in its time.

Chinese workers at the mines usually smoked opium in moderation. One incident is recorded where moderation went out the window and five Chinese men, extremely high on opium, were thrown into the Lower Lake Stone Jail all at one time.

There was never a guard or watchman for the jail, even when there were occupants. The jail also was without a sanitary facility of any kind and food and water were only provided when absolutely necessary.

After some time, the little jail was closed. For years after it served the county as a gasoline storehouse.

In later years, some townspeople wanted to get rid of it entirely. The Civic Club, Luncheon Club and Native Sons of the Golden West came to the rescue and saved the little building.

It became a California Historic landmark on Oct. 2, 1962.

For more information about the Lake County Sesquicentennial, visit, join the celebration at!/pages/Lake-County-Sesquicentennial/171845856177015 and follow it on Twitter at .

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Upcoming Calendar

10.17.2019 6:30 pm
Lake County Progressives
Round Table Pizza
10.19.2019 8:30 am - 12:00 pm
Saturday Morning Market
10.19.2019 9:00 am - 3:00 pm
Lakeport Community Cleanup Day 
10.19.2019 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Hall-oween Dance Party
Big Valley Hall
10.20.2019 8:00 am - 11:00 am
Masonic Lodge breakfast
10.20.2019 10:00 am
Rock of Faith Church
10.20.2019 3:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Democratic Party annual fundraiser

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