Charlottesville is a city said to be cursed by strange cryptids and monstrous creatures, but in the case of the Old Albemarle Jail, fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. Innocent and guilty men alike spent days, weeks, months, and even years confined to the close quarters of their crammed cells, creating an epicenter of violence, mental torment, and endless suffering.
Today, ghostly presences are said to still roam the darkened halls of the Old Albemarle Jail, a reminder of the real-life horrors that occurred within these very walls. Journey into the past with a tour from Charlottesville Ghosts, and experience firsthand the strange, hair-raising energy that surrounds this historic building and its otherworldly prisoners.
Charlottesville is synonymous with tragedy, from the disastrous effects of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, to strange deaths, to other horrific acts of violence that took place right here within the city’s seemingly charming streets. Its cemeteries are filled to the brim with bodies of long-dead soldiers, clerks, doctors, and other ordinary people, but not all of them were met with a peaceful death. One such individual is former Charlottesville mayor Samuel McCue, a notorious figure in the city’s history who was famously accused—and later convicted—of murdering his wife, Fannie.
McCue served two consecutive terms between 1896 and 1900 and was elected for his third and final term in 1902. Allegedly, McCue wasn’t particularly favored by Charlottesville residents and was said to have hated the poor during his time in office. There were also rumors that McCue was cheating on his wife, which is why eyebrows were raised when Fannie McCue turned up dead on August 31, 1904, just days after the closing of Samuel’s third term.
McCue claimed that his wife had been shot by burglars in their Park Street home, but within weeks, he was formally charged with murder after a lengthy police investigation. He was hung for his crimes at the Old Albemarle Jail the following year, marking the last public execution in the state of Virginia. Today, his body can ironically be found next to his wife’s in Riverview Cemetery.
Although the Old Albemarle Jail is perhaps best known for being where Samuel McCure met his demise, the complex had held prisoners for several years before the former mayor’s shocking crimes. Built in 1876, dangerous inmates from Charlottesville and surrounding counties would be sent to the Old Albemarle Jail to serve their sentences. Made with three-foot-thick walls of solid rock and extremely heavy doors, the odds of escaping this penitentiary were slim, if not nonexistent.
Food was limited to one meal a day, and with up to four prisoners sharing a single cell at any given time, it was certainly close quarters. And with this many infamous criminals sharing such a confined space, the Old Albemarle Jail was a breeding ground for disaster. From failed escape attempts, to wrongful convictions, to bloodshed, this site is plagued by the sins of its past, and even though their sentences may have ended decades ago, some inmates have never left the confined walls of their cells.
Visitors to the Old Albemarle Jail have long reported strange occurrences and ominous encounters with phantoms from the penitentiary’s past, which comes as no surprise knowing the grim history of this building. When entering the jail, guests reported feeling a chill, as if the human anguish that took place in these dark halls could be physically felt.
And even though the cells have been empty for nearly 50 years, tour guides have claimed that they don’t always feel alone when strolling the corridors at night. Whether it be the tormented souls of wrongly accused prisoners, vengeful spirits of vicious felons, or perhaps, even the ghost of Samuel McCue, the horrors that defined this structure’s past very much continue to haunt its present.
“Spirit walks” have been held at the Old Albemarle Jail in the past, and every time a group is taken inside, unspeakable terror occurs…and not always on purpose. One fall, during one of these events, an employee by the name of Paul was sitting in the dark with his lantern in the breezeway, playing the role of a Jailer.
Suddenly, he heard the sound of footsteps, not thinking much of it until he realized that, in fact, no one was there. Paul claims that footsteps can be heard pacing the breezeway year-round, perhaps the shoes of a long-dead jailer, patiently waiting for trouble to stir in the cellblock.
The Old Albemarle Jail kept prisoners until 1974 before it was replaced by a new penitentiary south of Charlottesville and subsequently closed. Since then, the space has been used for storage and has been closed to the public. Efforts have been taken to convert the building into a museum, but none of them have panned out. For more about America’s most haunted jails and penitentiaries, visit our blog, and be sure to keep up with US Ghost Adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.