The "old jail" in Albany was the first permanent public building in Shackelford County. It was designed and built by John Thomas of Thomas and Woerner, Builders, Fort Worth. Construction began in 1877, and the building was completed in August 1878, at the shocking cost to county taxpayers of $9,000. The old jail has housed such notorious outlaws and gunmen as John Selman, who escaped from the place. The prisoners were kept in the upper story, and the jailer and his family lived in the two rooms downstairs. The upstairs had one large room where two cage cells were placed with a walkway around them and a smaller room used as an isolation cell or drunk tank. At one time the upstairs cell doors could be opened by an elaborate pulley device. The original building had no window panes, only iron bars. Inside and outside shutters were the only method of regulating ventilation. The only heat available to the upstairs was provided by the two fireplaces in the lower two rooms through a chimney and flue design. In 1979–80 a restoration of the old jail installed electricity, heating, cooling, running water, and indoor plumbing.
A new jail was built in 1929, and, except for occupation by an occasional destitute family, the old jail stood vacant until June 1940, when playwright Robert E. Nail, Jr., purchased it from the county for $375. Until his death in 1968 Nail used it as a studio and storage space for papers, letters, books, and items relating to Shackelford County history and the Fort Griffin Fandangle. After Nail's death the jail became the property of his nephew, Reilly Nail, but remained vacant until 1977. That year the Old Jail Foundation was organized and acquired the building for restoration. The restoration and an addition were finished in October 1980. The jail was opened to the public as a museum on December 19, 1980. It has been designated a historical landmark and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Most of the Old Jail Art Center's now extensive permanent collection came from four private collections, two of which were limited to American and European twentieth-century works. The twentieth-century collections include works by such American artists as John Marin, John Sloan, and Charles Demuth and such British and European artists as Adrian Heath, Alan Reynolds, Keith Vaughn, Paul Klee, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre Jacquemon. The Marshall R. Young Courtyard, named for a pioneer oilman, exhibits most of the outdoor twentieth-century sculpture collection, which includes such sculptors as Americans Jesús Bautista Moroles, Evaline Sellors, and the late Charles Williams, as well as post-World War II European sculptors Luigi Broggini, Pericle Fazzini, and Augusto Pérez. Several of the important works in the Young Courtyard were donated by the Meadows Foundation of Dallas. In the Asian collection are thirty-seven pottery tomb figures that date from the early Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty. The figures are from the collection of the late Jewel Nail Bomar. The Old Jail Art Center is also the home of the W. O. Gross, Jr., collection of pre-Columbian art, which dates back to as early as 1,000 B.C. Among the cultures represented in this collection are the Chimu, Colima, Huastec, Jalisco, Maya, Mezcala, Michoacán, Mixtec, Nayarit, Nazca, and Teotihuacán.
Other museum facilities include a 2,500-volume library pertaining to all aspects of the visual arts and the history of art. In addition there is a small library pertaining to regional history. Research fields include contemporary art and regional art and artists. There is also a local history and genealogy archive with its own archivist.