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Alexandria Black History Museum
Alexandria,  VA
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Old Jail Museum (IN)
Crawfordsville, IN

Hailed when it opened in 1882 as an Industrial Age solution to the problem of housing prisoners safely and efficiently, the Rotary Jail of Montgomery County was one of only seven known prisons of its kind ever built in the United States. By rotating a mechanism on which a two-tiered turntable pivoted, a jailer could bring one of 16 pie-shaped cells to the opening, allowing a prisoner in or out.

The idea was simple. By creating a structure in which prisoners could be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between inmate and jailer, builders William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh of Indianapolis believed that their patented design would help maintain the strict Victorian social order. In fact, they had placed Crawfordsville’s peculiar jail behind a two-story home built in the architecturally exotic Second Empire style. The sheriff occupied the main and second floors; the prisoners lived in the cellblock attached to the residence.

But by 1930, few Hoosiers marveled at the rotary jail’s extraordinary design. State Board of Charities investigators noted: “This structure of brick and steel is old, insecure, unsafe … Natural light and ventilation are poor. The revolving cell block offers dark, insanitary cells for the sixteen men it accommodates.”

Trying to salvage the county’s investment, jailers modified the building over the next four decades, first immobilizing the turntable, then making other upgrades to satisfy changing codes. In 1967, after numerous condemnations by inspectors, a Montgomery County grand jury ordered the structure abandoned.

Today, the Old Jail Museum pays homage to a time when ornamentation and invention were seen as the solution to social ills. Come explore this curiosity of our past.

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Donations to the Old Jail Museum will be used to support our community art programs.

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