The shire (county) was developed in England on behalf of the King, designated a royal official responsible for keeping the peace. The term "Sheriff" was officially used by the Anglo-Saxon King Cnut (1071-1035) originated from a letter he wrote from Rome in 1027. By the 11th century the Shire system was fully established throughout most of England, with each shire being ruled by a shire-reeve or sheriff, appointed by the crown. By the 14th century the office of justice of the peace had developed; in each county a court of three or four justices, also appointed by the king, assisting the Sheriff in the administration of local affairs.
In the early days the office was elective, but eventually the power to appoint the Sheriff's was invested in the Crown. The Sheriff's principal function in the earliest days seems to have been to protect the interests of both the King and the people against the powerful barons. He executed the King's Writs and presided in the county court and the hundred court. For a time the Sheriff also collected taxes within his shire or county. In certain sections powerful landowners became allied with the Sheriff and they attempted to make the office hereditary.
The Sheriff's responsibilities in the colonies were basically that of collecting taxes and overseeing local elections as the representative of the Governor. Before the Revolutionary War, Sheriff's were appointed by the Governor and held office at his pleasure. The first Sheriff to serve in the territory that became the State of Ohio was Ebenezer Sproat, commissioned the "High Sheriff of Washington County" by Governor Arthur St. Clair.
The State Constitution, adopted in July of 1776, provided for the annual elections of Sheriff's and Coroners, who were ineligible for re-election after three terms. These were the only county officials elected by the people. In November of 1933 general election voters repealed the old provision of the Ohio Constitution prohibiting Sheriff's from running for a third term, or "serving more than four years in any period of six years." In November of 1934 eleven Sheriff's were re-elected for third terms. Eight others ran for the extended term, but were defeated. Among those re-elected were Charles H. Radcliff of Pickaway County, Dwight E. Radcliff of Pickaway County (son of Charles H. Radcliff).
Today in each of the 88 Ohio counties, the Sheriff is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer. His primary duty is to provide full police protection to the unincorporated areas of the county. However, he maintains full police jurisdiction in all spectrum of law enforcement; criminal investigations, air and water accidents, service of all legal processes of the courts, operation of the county jail and total police service on a 24 hour basis. His office must transport all criminals to and from penal institutions and is also called upon to handle all mental patients within their jurisdiction.
Thomas Jefferson, in his work called The Values of Constitution wrote, "The Office of Sheriff if the most important of all the executive officers in the county."
The first jail was a double log structure, which stood on the lot on the south side of East Center Street, in the rear of the court house. It was used not only for jail, but occasionally for a residence. On March 5, 1856, the Commissioners ordered the old jail be sold, with the view of purchasing a lot in another location, on which to build a new jail.
This building was constructed in two stages. The front was built in 1873 and the rear was added in 1901. The lot was purchased for $2,500.00 from H. Campbell with bonds issued on August 10, 1872. According to Curry's 1915 Union County History, this was lots 55 and half of 66 in the original town plat. $20,000.00 in bonds were issued for construction. Costs for excavation work; brick, stone and carpenter work; and furnishings except a "heating apparatus" came to $18,644.00 according to the 1915 history. The contractor was Rice and Grimmons.
In 1901, the section to the rear was erected by Champion Iron Works of Kenton at a cost of $9,997.00. The addition to the east of the building was done in 1969 by Walter Lautenbach of Zanesfield. Over the years as the Sheriff's Office space needs have increased. the building has been altered to meet those needs. The most recent alteration was closing in the front porch to create more office space. As a matter of fact, the porch itself was an addition, replacing the "gingerbread" hoot that once was over the front entrance.