Pick a room — any room.
It surely will be decorated with Dade City lore and history.
At the Locke Inn — the town’s newest Airbnb rental, event space and attraction — there are six rooms, all featuring a distinction unique to Dade City. The old brick building was built in 1892 and served as the Pasco County Jail.
The building hasn’t held prisoners for decades, but now is booking plenty of visitors as Dade City’s newest, and hottest, place to spend the night after Lori Patrick McCarthy and her partners completely renovated the place.
“There are already a lot of venues in Dade City, but also not many places to stay,” McCarthy said. “We promote it as a place to stay, when using the other venues, or for event space for small parties or even a micro wedding (about 50 people).
“But really,” McCarthy said, “I love themes. I love when something has a theme, so that’s what we have here at the Locke Inn.”
Locke Inn actually has several themes for its six rooms.
In the upstairs, there are three rooms, each having a theme linked to Dade City’s identity.
There’s the Atlantic Coast Line Room, honoring the rail company that came through the town in the early 1900s and built the depot (now the Dade City Heritage Museum) in 1912.
There’s the Kumquart Master room, which, of course, honors the town’s love affair with its official fruit.
And, there’s also the Cattle Ranch Room to honor the town’s farming, agricultural and ranching history.
Downstairs, guests spend the night in the slammer.
Three rooms are grouped together in The Clink: The Warden Master room, and Cell Blocks 1 and 2, while the bathroom used to be where prisoners were held in solitary confinement.
“I think everyone thinks that everything in here is going to be old — it just kind of looks old — but everything is also brand new,” McCarthy said. “We renovated it from the ground up.
“The history is cool — its niche, and there’s all this history, which we want to honor.”
Locke Inne still features its original steel bars on the windows, including the window where visitors would come talk to prisoners.
The structure also features the original red tile roof.
Besides being a jail, the building housed the sheriff and his family.
At the time when the jail was built, the sheriff’s wife would cook for those who were incarcerated.
Moonshine was often on the grounds, as well, left for prisoners that requested it, while many poignant African American hymn songs also were sung there.
Architect Francis Kennard, from England, designed the building.
Capt. Augustine Henry Ravesies, who settled in Trilby after the Civil War, built it.
The structure is considered to be the first masonry building in Pasco County.
Six hangings took place there from 1892 to 1917.
“The jailhouse was an ominous place where picnickers situated themselves on the grounds for the spectacle of pubic hangings and where at least one unauthorized lynching occurred after a prisoner was seized from the jail,” according to “A Haunted History of Pasco County,” by Madonna Jervis Wise.
There were jailbreaks, too, according to the Tampa Morning Tribune.
“It was important to keep the history,” McCarthy added. “Dade City is an amazing town, and while I’m not from here, I have fallen in love with the people and the town.”
The building sat abandoned for years, until Robert E. Meyer Jr., from Atlas Group Inc., purchased the crumbling jail in 1980 for $20,000 and renovated it.
It has served as a storage facility, law offices and even an insurance agency, as Buddy Jones owned it for 28 years.
Thirty years ago, Joan Rees discovered the original cornerstone in 1993, and it features the names of the county commissioners at the time. The stone was donated to the West Pasco Historical Museum at Sims Park in New Port Richey.
Despite the history that’s known about the jail, questions do remain.
For instance, is the Locke Inn haunted?
“Well,” McCarthy said with a laugh, “it depends on who you ask or what you feel while in the building.
“I haven’t seen or heard anything here, but we’ve had people stay, and one of those people, he was crying because he said he felt something, which is kind of exciting and scary.
“He wasn’t scared, more like really excited.”
There isn’t an abundance of sightings at the old jail, except for one story.
In 1984, Tribune reporter Rosemary Brown exposed a legendary tale from local Billy Stewart, a jail detainee who spent days staring out from behind the prison bars and died.
He has been said to be seen periodically staring out from the windows.
Haunted or not, the town is embracing the work put into restoring one of Dade City’s oldest buildings and bringing its history to life, McCarthy said.
“We’re one block away from Seventh Avenue — right in the heart of town — and the whole community is so excited about this,” she said.
“They were so supportive and loving that we just didn’t knock it down and rebuild or make it into something more modern.
“It’s truly a part of Dade City again.”
Where: 37739 Robinson Ave., Dade City
Details: The historic two-story building, constructed in 1892, originally was the Pasco County Jail. The structure has been completely renovated into a six-bedroom Airbnb. It can accommodate up to 12 guests and can be rented for weddings, parties and other special events.
Info: Visit LockeInn.com.
Some noteworthy events at Locke Inn/Pasco County Jail (Courtesy of Madonna Jervis Wise)
1892 – The brick jail is constructed and the marker at the Pasco County Jail lists these county commissioners: B.C. Campbell, T.F. Williams, L.S. Bradham, W.H. Haager, J.W. Clark.
Feb. 5, 1901 – A mob killed two black men, Will Wright and Sam Williams, in the jail. About 30 to 50 men broke down the outer door, then opened fire through the steel bars, shooting both prisoners dead.
Dec. 28, 1917 – The second and final public hanging takes place at the Dade City jail. Edgar London, a black man convicted of murdering his wife at Ehren, is executed by Sheriff I.W. Hudson, who sprang the trap door. Hudson was said to be unable to sleep after this execution.
Nov. 14, 1926 – Three inmates escape from the jail by digging a nine-foot tunnel. Their escape was discovered by Sheriff J.W. Hudson while on his usual rounds of the jail.
Published August 09, 2023