The following history was compiled by Van Wert resident Helen Prill
Van Wert County was organized in 1835 and the election of the first Sheriff was held in 1837. William Major was elected with a salary of $2.00. He resigned the next year and in 1838 Thomas R. Kear, his Deputy was elected to office.
In 1838, the County Commissioners issued an order to have a jail constructed. The contract was issued to Jesse King of Mercer County to be built on or before November 1st 1839, at a cost of $483.00. The money for the jail was to come from the sale of lots in Van Wert. The first jail was built next to the courthouse with one side occupied by the Sheriff and his family.
The jail was built of hewed logs, the sides having three thickness, the middle ties being upright. The door was a heavy wooden one, with the outside covered with sheet iron. As the lumber dried out the logs could easily be pried apart so that escape was very easy. Many instances occurred when a prisoner would crawl out of the jail through the logs during the night, go to a saloon and spend the night, and then crawl back into the jail before daybreak.
The railroad reached Van Wert by 1852 and shortly thereafter came the telegraph. It was becoming easier to move the prisoners to Lima for safe keeping and with the telegraph, messages could reach the Sheriff much quicker.
In January of 1861, the question of a new jail had come before the people, they voted yes and the commissioners approved a bid of $6,356.00 to be given to S.F. Fletcher for the building of the second jail. It was constructed of brick and stood close to the courthouse. A year later a second floor was added which also included the Sheriffs quarters.
By 1888, the present jail had become unsuitable, there were many escape attempts due to the jail being in such poor condition. In 1891, the voters said yes to a new jail. In 1892, the third jail in Van Wert County was completed.
VAN WERT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE HISTORY - 1900SIn 1926, the commissioners decided the Sheriff's Office needed to purchase a vehicle and bought a Chevrolet Reynolds Sedan Model 1925, equipped with new tires for $575.00.
It was not until 1953, that the first of many proposals submitted to the voters which would provide a 2 year 2-mill levy to improve the courthouse and jail. By this time the Sheriff was able to have 2-way radios put into use and was able to use the county engineers tower.}
By 1970, a LEADS NCIC computer network was added to the Sheriff's office.
In 1980, there were still problems with the jail situation. The old jail, built in 1891 had been in disrepair for several years. Prisoners were transported to different locations. For years the county commissioners had spoken of a new jail but it had been turned down by the voters.
In March of 1980, the state ordered the jail closed.
In 1988, the Van Wert County Sheriff's Office opened it's new office located at 113 N. Market Street in Van Wert.
Previous Van Wert County Sheriffs
Van Wert County Sheriff Stan Owens took office in 1989. It was an exciting and very busy beginning with the demolition of the old jail, plus the work it took for the commissioners to get the money so a new facility could be constructed. The jail issue had existed for over 16 years and it was time to build a new jail. The construction consisted of two phases. Phase I was the acquisition of the Traditions Restaurant property at a cost of $665,374.28. Phase II was the construction of the 82 bed facility in 1997 & 1998 at a cost of $3,796,700.90, with a total of $1,625,000.00 paid by state grant monies, thus the net cost to the Van Wert County tax payers for the Phase II portion was $1,871,700.90. The new jail facility was open in September of 1998. On February 17, 1999 a mortgage burning was held as the new Van Wert County Correctional Facility was paid off..
Many new programs have been implemented including the DARE program which started in 1993 at Crestview Schools with other county and city schools becoming involved in the following years. Also established was a 911 review board that initiates 911 in Van Wert County, as well as the jail inmate work crew program.
List of Previous Sheriffs
Thomas M. Riggenbach (2013 - Present)
Stan D. Owens (1989-2013)
Jerry B. Brittsan (1981-1988)
Don G. Thomas (1968-1980)
Wilmer L Clay (1952-1968)
F. Roy Shaffer (1940-1952)
R.B. Stevens (1934-1939)
F. Roy Shaffer (1930-1934)
A.F. Fleck (1926-1930)
H.W. Johnson (1924-1926)
E.E. Terry (1922-1924)
Joe C. Sells (1918-1922)
J. Herman Gunsett (1914-1918)
Henry B. Wilson (1910-1914)
Fred J Hott (1905-1910)
William Bickford (1901-1905)
John Webster (1897-1901)
Eugene R. Conn (1893-1897)
A.P. Shoemaker (1889-1892)
Isaac P. Tudor (1885-1889)
Charles Gordon (1883-1885)
Hal D. Heistand (1879-1883)
Jesse R. Stith (1877-1879)
Fred Billman (1873-1877)
A. B. Gleason (1869-1873)
William Major (1837-1838)
Charles R. Richie (1867-1869)
Joseph R. Updegrove (1865-1867)
Lewis Evers (1863-1864)
Charles P. Richie (1859-1863)
Samuel Neel (1857-1859)
William Moneysmith (1853-1855)
Jacob C. Parkinson (1849-1852)
Samual Engleright (1847-1849)
Thomas R. Kear (1843-1847)
Samuel Clark (1841-1843)
Thomas R. Kear (1839-1841)