County Jail Closed by Sheriff in 1975

Daviess County no longer has a jail which will accept prisoners. County Sheriff Harold Appley condemned the jail as of Nov. 1, 1975, as being unfit to receive prisoners.

Daviess County no longer has a jail which will accept prisoners. County Sheriff Harold Appley condemned the jail as of Nov. 1, 1975, as being unfit to receive prisoners.

This was the east half of the octagon-shaped jail, after being modified from its original design. The jail was divided into half by a solid steel wall (extreme right) after much of the original iron works were salvaged. The original jail entrance, however, was not removed and remains intact to this day.

In a letter to Presiding Judge Robert Owings, the sheriff stated: “Due to the present condition of the Daviess County Jail, which does not, in my opinion, meet any of the suggested minimum standards of county, state or federal jail committees as to health and sanitation, ventilation, lighting, prisoner safety, visiting facilities and the impossibility of a continual supervision of the prisoners, I feel it my duty, not only for my own personal liability but that of any prisoners, to condemn this jail as of November 1, 1975, until such time as reasonable quarters can be provided for incarceration of suspected, apprehended or convicted violators of the law.”

The sheriff previously said that he is the only official authorized to condemn a jail. He said Circuit Judge Kenneth Lewis had refused to place prisoners in the Daviess County Jail for many months.

(Date Unknown) — The original bars securing jail windows were replaced by the metal grates shown here. It is thought that the original bars were horizontal and offset, allowing prisoners to tilt or open a glass window frame pivoted between the bars.

“I have asked for improvements to be made in the jail from time to time,” Appley said, “but the court says they are broke and lake the funds. I do not question that they are hard-pressed for money but this jail is no longer suitable for anyone to be housed in it.”

Appley said it would probably be cheaper for the court to house prisoners in another jail in the long run since the costs of maintaining and heating the old jail and living quarters are so expensive.

A locker, to hold prisoners’ personal items during incarcerations, was to the left of the heavy metal swinging door entrance into the jail. A combination lock secured the locker. The singular doorway was also the jail’s only exit, thus contributing to the state’s condemnation of the facility’s use.

Following a meeting of the county court and the sheriff, Judge Owings said it appeared the court has but two alternatives. The first is to make repairs and changes to the present jail to meet the standards; second, to consider moving the jail into new facilities on the upper floor of the courthouse.

The court made an inspection of the fourth floor to determine if this alternative would be feasible. Owings said that the improvements submitted by Sheriff Appley for the old jail were “not bad” as far as expense was concerned but the feeling persists that the old jail facility has simply outlived its time and ought to be replaced.

Judge Owings said the county needs a new jail and he would have liked to see one built “but things just haven’t worked out.” He indicated county prisoners would now be sent to nearby jails until a solution for this county can be reached.

The Daviess County Jail has had an interesting history since it was built in 1888. Until some years ago it contained what was commonly called the “squirrel cage” cells which could be spun around like a merry-go-round with one common entrance to all cells. This apparatus was removed in a major remodeling project some years ago but living conditions inside the jail were not helped much. Sanitation, light and heat have remained a serious deficiency.

Sheriff’s residence and Rotary Jail during term of Sheriff Houghton

Living conditions for the sheriff and his family have also been poor in recent years. These quarters are near the cell area and meals for the prisoners were prepared in the sheriff’s kitchen. Just a few days ago, Sheriff and Mrs. Appley were eating lunch when a snake fell out of the ceiling.

“With the condition of the jail what it is,” Appley said, “there isn’t any way to keep the place in good order.”

— reprinted from the Gallatin North Missourian, Nov. 6, 1975

Blueprints of the plans to renovate the Squirrel Cage Jail were drafted by inmates who performed the reconstruction while incarcerated at Western Missouri Correctional Center at Cameron. The static display of the squirrel cage was disassembled, then transported to Gallatin to be reassembled inside the authentic jail building.
A new roof was top priority during renovations in 1991. Ornate metal roof decorations were previously removed. The front porch on the sheriff’s residence required little repair. Sandstone window sills were generally in poor shape but no changeouts were attempted.
Decay of the jail’s brick exterior was accelerated when an interior metal lining was added while modifying the original squirrel cage area to two large cells. The metal held moisture against the brick for many years, causing the mortar to rot. Thus, during reclamation in 1991, the jail’s exterior brick had to be entirely replaced.
The 1889 Squirrel Cage Jail as it appeared in 1995. Available funds did not allow for recreating the original jail bars on the octagon-shaped jail. Those donating to the reclamation project were noted on engraved bricks in a sidewalk surrounding the jail.

Jail Escapee’s Freedom Short-Lived

After the unusual rotary jail was modified during the facility’s final years of use, the incidence of prisoner escapes were infrequent but more likely. One escape, which occurred Sept. 9, 1970, even bordered on the humorous.

After the unusual rotary jail was modified during the facility’s final years of use, the incidence of prisoner escapes were infrequent but more likely. One escape, which occurred Sept. 9, 1970, even bordered on the humorous.

Wilburn Earl McAfee, 22, managed to pry his way through the roof of the jail about the time the beauty contest crowd came out of the Gallatin school auditorium, located across the street. He was seen briefly while he was on the roof. But those who noticed simply thought he was a prankster rather than an escaping prisoner, so McAfee successfully made his escape out of town.

Officers searched for him all during that night. About 5 a.m. he was apprehended while hitchhiking north on Highway 13 near Jameson. Gallatin’s night marshall, Doug Roberts, recognized the fugitive while driving home. McAfee didn’t recognize Roberts since the city officer was in plain clothes and driving a pickup truck.

McAfee was in jail on a disturbing the peace warrant issued in Daviess County, as well as for a count of forgery from Caldwell County after he was jailed.

There is irony in the capture of McAfee by Roberts. Wilburn Roberts’ brother, Danny, was the driver of the car that smashed into the Roberts car east of Coffey, MO, the previous June. This resulted in the death of Mr. Robert’s wife and two of their children. Danny’s brother, Delbert, also died in the crash; Mr. Roberts and eight others were injured.

Summarized by Darryl Wilkinson from a news article published in the Sept. 10, 1970, Gallatin North Missourian

Infamous Missouri Prisoners

Public attention on the 1883 trial of Frank James prodded citizens of Daviess County to look at upgrading its jail, eventually leading to the construction of the Squirrel Cage Jail in 1889. Thus, the most famous outlaw affiliated with Daviess County was never incarcerated in the historic Rotary Jail. Can you name some of Missouri’s other infamous prisoners?

Public attention on the 1883 trial of Frank James prodded citizens of Daviess County to look at upgrading its jail, eventually leading to the construction of the Squirrel Cage Jail in 1889. Thus, the most famous outlaw affiliated with Daviess County was never incarcerated in the historic Rotary Jail. Can you name some of Missouri’s other infamous prisoners?

  • John Reno of the Reno Gang, considered the world’s first train robber, 1860s-1870s
  • Gen. John McDonald, who once served in President Grant’s administration, convicted of a whiskey tax scheme, 1870s
  • Kate Richards O’Hare, a social reformer, 1919-20, convicted of sedition. She was pardoned by President Wilson and helped reform the penal system.
  • Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, notorious bank robber, 1929-33. While at the prison, he was suspected of stealing potatoes to make moonshine.
  • Charles "Sonny" Liston, armed robber, 1950-52. Learned to box at Missouri State Penitentiary, and later claimed the title of Heavywieght Boxing Champion by defeating Cassius Clay in 1964.
  • James Earl Ray, armed robber, 1960 until his escape from prison baker in 1967. Assasinated Martin Luther King, Jr., in April, 1968.

Missouri’s old state penitentiary in Jefferson City officially closed on Sept. 15, 2004 — a day when nearly 1,300 prisoners were moved to a new facility outside of Jefferson City. Gone are many of the state’s original penetentiary buildings of beautiful stonework, built when A.M. Dockery of Gallatin served as governor.

Since its beginnings in 1836, the state penitentiary expanded and suffered from growing pains. Riots and murders insde the walls, combined with an explosion in the prison population after World War II and other societal changes, made it necessary to expand and adapt the facility. With new prison buildings came new ideas about rehabilitation — thus educational opportunities, improved health care and recreational services appeared.

The penitentiary once held the reputation as "the bloodiest 47 acres in the nation" (according to a movie magazine in the 1960s). The prison exercise yard was once an old stone quarry, where the rock was cut to make the surrounding walls. The facility once had a slaughterhouse, saddletree factory, harness works, binder twine factory, clothing factory, furniture factory and many shoe factories. More recently, it operated a metal tag shop which produced license plates and adhesive license tags.

Reprinted, in part, from “Lock Down in Time” by Barbara Baird, published in the Missouri Ruralist, November 2006

Jail Break! Great Escapes from the Squirrel Cage Jail ..and other crimes

Two prisoners from Pattonsburg, lodged in the Daviess County jail to serve a 90-day sentence for carrying concealed weapons, performed the magical feat of walking through the bars of “chilled steel to liberty and a return the freedome of plying their pilfering vocation” in January, 1899. And nobody knows how — and a grand jury later describes the rotary jail as “not safe for the safe keeping of prisoners.”

One of the reasons a Squirrel Cage Jail was constructed in Daviess County was for its apparent security. But despite its unique design, there were instances when prisoners did, in fact, escape. Here are the most noteworthy:

JANUARY, 1899

Two prisoners from Pattonsburg, lodged in the Daviess County jail to serve a 90-day sentence for carrying concealed weapons, performed the magical feat of walking through the bars of “chilled steel to liberty and a return the freedome of plying their pilfering vocation” in January, 1899. And nobody knows how — and a grand jury later describes the rotary jail as “not safe for the safe keeping of prisoners.”

Ed Conley and Adam Brown were partners in crime with a tramp hoodlum called “Moxie,” who was responsible for the death of Constable Wm. Parker on Oct. 29, 1898. During court proceedings, Conley was shown to have provided Moxie with the pistol used in the killing. Both Conley and Brown are suspected of several robberies.

The Pattonsburg Call reported that Conley and Brown were arrested by Police King and Newman at Port Arthur depot. A robbery raid on Pattonsburg had just occurred the night before, and the men arrested were thought to be a part of that band. Another man who was with them during the nighttime melee had gotten away.

When searched, officers found a complete outfit of skeleton keys which labeled Conley and Brown as being more than just ordinary bums. They were locked up in Pattonsburg’s calaboose. But when the marshall checked a short time later, he found the suspects had sawed one of the hinges nearly off the door. A search, however, revealed no saws. The two suspects were then handcuffed together, and in a short time it was found that they had cut the handcuffs.

Conley and Brown were searched again before departing with authorities from Pattonsburg. A number of saws and burglar tools were taken from their clothing. “How they got their implements of distruction (while in jail at Pattonsburg) is as much of a mystery as what was done with the bars of chilled steel that Daviess County paid the contractors to put in the cages and gratings, which Conley and his pal went through like a rat through a cracker box, cutting a hole wherever they desired and carrying off pieces of the grates as mementos.”

This jail escape prompted a grand jury investigation, and condemnation of the jail as “unsafe for the safe keeping of prisoners.” The county court approved the condemnation, but provided no means for repair.

(rewritten by Darryl Wilkinson from newspaper clipping of the Gallatin Democrat on Jan. 12, 1899)

AUGUST 31, 1967

Three escaped from this Squirrel Cage Jail but were promptly captured in Liberty, MO, within the hour by Missouri State Troopers. Two prisoners, a Kansas City man facing murder charges and a Pattonsburg man facing burglary and larceny charges, broke out of jail and forced another prisoner to flee with them. The jail was not guarded since the sheriff and his wife were visiting a hospitalized deputy in St. Joseph at the time of the break. The escapees destroyed a cot and used a steel rod to break the cell lock. They then stole a car which had been impounded during the investigation of another case.

September 10, 1970

One prisoner, jailed here on charges of disturbing the peace and forgery in Caldwell County, escaped by pushing up a loose roof section in the jail. He was later caught hitchhiking north on Hwy. 13 by a city night watchman.


The following lists a few of the mor notorious local crimes which occurred during the latter years the Squirrel Cage Jail was in use in Daviess County:

  • 1955 – Sheriff A.F. “Buster” Clements crushed his hand in a car crash while chasing two Gallatin boys who escaped from the Caldwell County Jail. The sheriff underwent surgery after the thumb on his left hand was torn from the socket and bones shoved through the palm of his hand. The escapees were apprehended in Kansas City after a 20-block chase involving six squad cars and four gun shots.
  • 1957 – A bad check artist, using six different aliases, was finally jailed here; five Gallatin businesses robbed
  • 1959 – Pattonsburg man faces murder charges, held in Squirrel Cage Jail
  • 1961 – Authorities ponder future of Squirrel Cage jail after state review; jail later significantly modified in 1964
  • 1965 – Jamesport bank robbery
  • 1967 – Murder trial goes to Buchanan County on change of venue, concludes with conviction
  • 1971 – Man murders wife outside a tavern on the Gallatin square, later
    sentenced to 10 years at the state penitentiary; 16-year-old Pattonsburg
    youth faces charges of murdering another youth
  • 1974 – Man incarcerated here after pistol whipping two Gallatin men
    at the Daviess County Country Club
  • 1975 – Two men jailed here after armed robbery at a trading post business located west of Gallatin

Early Public Buildings on the Square

In December, 1856, James McFarran was asked to plan a new stone jail to replace Daviess County’s first jail, the “pit” jail. Research in courthouse records during 1857-1860 reveals much about the construction of the stone jail as well as other physical developments of the Daviess County seat.

In December, 1856, James McFarran was asked to plan a new stone jail to replace Daviess County’s first jail, the “pit” jail. Research in courthouse records during 1857-1860 reveals much about the construction of the stone jail as well as other physical developments of the Daviess County seat.

In addition to the courthouse (1842), public well (1842), and plank fence (1846), horse racks were put up by Frances N. Buckholts in 1857. The reapir of the board fences that enclosed the courthouse yard cost $129.37. A new clerk’s office building had been discussed since February, 1851. It was to be fireproof, but not to exceed $700. John W. Sheets’ plans for the new clerk’s office were approved in May, 1859, and contracted with Joseph L. Nelson in June, 1859. The builder was to be paid $1,500 plus $200 for the erection on the east side of the public square. The office was received by the county on Dec. 1, 1859. Drawings of the building show it on the east side of the courthouse, the distance south of center is not determined. James McFarran was asked to plan a new stone jail and estimate its cost in December, 1856. Plans were approved to be placed under contract the first Monday of May, 1857. In September A.C. Ball made drawings of the new jail and McFarran was Jail Commissioner. Shea Griffinand Company got the contract and received payments in June and September, 1858. The new stone jail was complete and ready for use in November, 1858. By March, 1859, Sheriff James J. Minor was using the jail as a residence. Plans were made in August, 1859, to add a kitchen and smokehouse to make a better residence of the facility. This was to cost $400 and $250 was added for a privy. Owings and Osborn were believed to have done the work. This was completed by Dec. 19, 1859, and again reported complete on May 9, 1860, with tin used for the roof. The court paid for a drawing of this building in March, 1867, but nothing of this drawing remains. This jail was reported to have been northwest of the courthouse. On Nov. 17, 1867, the John Reno Gang (five members) robbed the new clerk’s office building, taking the county’s treasury of $23,000. County Clerk Joseph H. McGee and Sheriff John Ballenger sought legal relief from lost funds caused by the robbers. The county provided funds for 10 guards to keep the gang in jail (owing to its poor condition) and Dr. Wiliam Folmsbee was paid $35 for care of the prisoners. John Reno was taken to the state penitentiary by Feb. 4, 1868 — but that’s another story.

Written by David Stark for the Gallatin North Missourian.

“Pit Jail” Preceded the Stone Jail

While most attention that can be mustered on jails focuses on the oddity of the 1889 Squirrel Cage Jail in Gallatin, some point to this jail’s predecessaor with equal interest. David Stark, researching records at the county clerk’s office, offers the following information about the county’s “pit” jail.

While most attention that can be mustered on jails focuses on the oddity of the 1889 Squirrel Cage Jail in Gallatin, some point to this jail’s predecessaor with equal interest. David Stark, researching records at the county clerk’s office, offers the following information about the county’s “pit” jail.

The county pit jail was one of the first public buildings in Gallatin, MO. It was started soon after the sale of lots in Gallatin during the spring of 1838. Philip Covington was superintendent of county public buildings, and he prepared the plan for this jail which was similar to the Ray County Jail in Richmond, MO. The contract for the pit jail was given to John Comer for $390 on May 25, 1838. Wilson McKinney backed the bond for construction at twice the contract amount. It was constructed on Lots 1 and 2, Block 4 West and 1 South, which is the northeast corner of the old Gallatin Motor Company building (on North Main Street). That year, 1838, was a bad year for construction in Gallatin. Early work was probably lost in mid-October by fire. Covington was replaced as superintendent by Lewis Dodd in December, 1839. Dodd advanced Comer $200 at 2% interest on Dec. 7, and gave Comer another year to finish the work. When the jail was completed on March 2, 1841, Comer was paid $575 the next day. A Mr. Sircy and Mr. Stallings receievd $25 for a report on the work. The total cost to the county was $600. Bedding was purchased in May, 1841, and in May, 1842, so the pit jail was probably first used during this time. The pit jail was placed on level ground with no foundation. It was two stories high, measuring 18 feet to the roof line. The ground floor was one room 20’x2’x8′ with a single 10"x18" window and a 2’x2′ trap door in the center of the ceiling. The second floor was 23’x23’x7′ with no windows and a single door leading to a 5’x6′ platform. The outside size of the building was 25’x25′ with steps leading up the front to the platform. Materials needed for the construction exceeded 62,000 board feet of logs and 2,000 running feet of 6-inch diameter peeled poles. All logs were hewn 12-inches square except for the ceiilng of the second floor which was made of 8"x12" logs. The door on the second floor was 3-3/4" thick of three layers of oak plank with wrought iron nails over 2 inches and driven through and cinched. Hinges were riveted on the inside. The 2-foot square trap door was strong and secured by a lock. The outer door was secured by a "flint quality" lock. The banisters were 2 feet high. The log floor of the pit was not secured to the side walls, so the ceiling may have become lower as the side walls sank into the soil. There was no plan for chinknig the cracks or for protection from carpenter ants, termintes or other bugs. The jail was probably made of green logs, so cracks probably enlarged. There was no provision for heating the building. The builder, John Comer, was born in North Carolina about 1785, and was living in Gallatin with his wife, Mary, after 1860. The Comers probably had a cabin south of the jail (where the Bank of Gallatin was later built). This cabin was rebuilt after the Mormon War. John was a licensed dram shop keeper in 1851 and 1852 and was county deputy sheriff in August, 1854. He purchased two lots east of his cabin and owned 10 acres in the southeast part of the original town. Col. McFerran started plans for a new stone jail on Dec. 19, 1856. This second jail facility in Daviess County was not completed and ready for use until Nov. 15, 1858, at a cost of $3,300. The lots and old pit jail may have been sold by the county before the new stone jail was finished.

Written by David Stark for the Gallatin North Missourian in August, 1993.

Spend Some Time in the 1889 Squirrel Cage Jail

Rotary jails, where a round “squirrel cage” divided into jail cells spins on a single axis inside a perimeter of stationary bars, are antiques. Six rotary jails are known to have been constructed, all variations off the patented design by the Pauley Jail Building & Mfg. Company of St. Louis. Only three still stand as visual markers of yesteryear.

Rotary jails, where a round “squirrel cage” divided into jail cells spins on a single axis inside a perimeter of stationary bars, are antiques. Six rotary jails are known to have been constructed, all variations off the patented design by the Pauley Jail Building & Mfg. Company of St. Louis. Only three still stand as visual markers of yesteryear.

The Daviess County Squirrel Cage Jail was completed in 1889. Its unique architectural design provided answers to concerns about prisoner security, worries about both prisoners breaking out and accomplices breaking in. Sanitation, winter heating, and hand-crank operation were problems. With modifications, the jail was in use until 1975. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As you visit, notice how authentic jail bars are beveled and metal plates riveted. Look inside the inmates’ locker, secured by antique combination lock since it houses the hand crank which once spun the jail cells. Walk into the cramped pie-shaped cells many were forced to call home for various periods of time.

Visitor literature and gift shop items available. Seasonal operation of the facility as a visitors’ information center will be underwritten by proceeds from an endowment made possible through the estate of Helen Roosevelt in memoriam to her maternal grandfather, Henry Clay McDougal.

Informational displays about significant historical facts about Daviess County and Northwest Missouri are on display. Exhibits on display or under construction include: — Missouri’s “Mormon War” of 1838 — 1869 James Gang robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association — 1881 Winston train robbery by the Frank and Jesse James Gang — 1883 Trial of Frank James in Gallatin, Mo. — The Lewis Mill, a pre-Civil War water turbine grist mill from the Grand River

FACT SHEET ABOUT THE SQUIRREL CAGE JAIL IN GALLATIN:

Built in 1888-89 for $11,261.15 by Pauley Jail Building & Mfg. Co. of St. Louis Only 3 of its kind left in existence Octagon jail structure housing 8 “pie-shaped” cells Hand crank rotated the “squirrel cage” Unique design, outside cage area for exercise and dining; women’s cells upstairs Original squirrel cage was dismantled in 1964 for safety; the jail was closed in 1975 then reopened as a vistors’ information center by the Daviess County Historical Society

Squirrel Cage: This Jail Was No Place to Do Time

Just a few blocks from the courthouse in Gallatin, MO, sets a building known as the Daviess County Rotary Jail, an 8-sided brick structure attached to a 2-story house. Years ago wards of Daviess County stared through the barred windows or passed the time of day with children from the school across the street. They saved their orange juice and put it in the window to ferment. Or they whiled away the long hours writing graffiti, poems, obscenities or their names on the walls. That all ended in 1975 when the jail was closed. But the structure remains as one of the most unusual means of housing prisoners yet devised.

Just a few blocks from the courthouse in Gallatin, MO, sets a building known as the Daviess County Rotary Jail, an 8-sided brick structure attached to a 2-story house. Years ago wards of Daviess County stared through the barred windows or passed the time of day with children from the school across the street. They saved their orange juice and put it in the window to ferment. Or they whiled away the long hours writing graffiti, poems, obscenities or their names on the walls. That all ended in 1975 when the jail was closed. But the structure remains as one of the most unusual means of housing prisoners yet devised.

The 1889 Rotary Jail in Gallatin, MO

The idea for a circular jail tracs its origins back to an Englishman named Jeremy Bentham, whose panoptican prison was builtin in 1791 (a panoptican prison is built so that a centrally located guard can see all the prisoners). The design shifted to America in 1800 when a circular, cattlepin-like prison was built in Richmond, VA, by B.A. Latrobe. Another example was the Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh, PA. But the most direct ancestor of the Gallatin jail was created in July, 1881, when W.H. Brown of Indianpolis, IN, received a patent for a rotary jail. Brown’s idea was for a jail built on a revolving turntable like a lazy Susan. Solid iron, pie-shaped cells were laid out on the turntable. Bunks were placed along the partition walls, with heat and toilet facilities in the center. The entire turntable was surrounded by a circular wall of iron bars. There was only one entrace door in the circular wall, which could be opened only by the jailor. In order to get prisoners in or out, the jailor rotated the turntable, using a hand crank connected through a series of gears. When the right cell was lined up with the door, the lazy Susan stopped and the door opened by pulling on a lever.

The Daviess County jail was one of several rotary jails built in the 1880s. In 1882 one was built for Nodaway County at Maryville, MO. Another one was built in Crawfordsville, IN, for Montgomery County. Council Bluffs, IA, added one in 1884-85, and DeKalb County, MO, followed with one built in Maysville in 1885. Of these five jails, only the ones in Gallatin, Council Bluffs and Crawfordsville remain. Gallatin differs in that it is the only one with the sheriff’s quarters attached at the time of original construction.

While the jail is a unique piece of architecture, confinement in such a place bordered on curel and unusual punishment. The cells were tiny, 8-feet high and 7-1/2 feet long. The walls were solid, offering no communication between prisoners. Bathing facilites were located in the outer circle. The cots had no sheets — blankets only were used. There was almost no ventilation, and the iron floor was cold enough to drain the body of heat. Prisoners ran the risk of amputation if their arms were hanging through the bars when the cells were rotated. And the single exit and need to rotate the cells made the jail a death trap should the place catch on fire. Fortunately, this never happened in Gallatin. About the only good point at the jail was the food. The sheriff’s wife did the cooking for the prisoners. Mary Louise Appley, wife of Harold Appley, the last sheriff to use the jail, remembers feeding the prisoners the same things she fed her family. “I cooked like I did for my family,” she said. “There were almost no facilities for separate meals, so it was either one or the other. I made roasts, soups, stews — good food. And we didn’t get anything for it. They allowed you $2 per day to feed your prisoners. That was supposed to be for three meals.” Food was sent to the prisoners through a metal “grub hole” in the wall where prisoners were admitted. This room had a wood cookstove at one time, early records show.

A lot had changed at the jail before the Appleys took over in January, 1969. In 1920 Gallatin put in a new sewer service, and the jail’s toilet facilities were updated accordingly. The turntable caused the jailors no end of problems, as the heavy floor caused the gear system to break down. After a time, the sheriff had to turn the jail like a top, literally putting his shoulder to the wheel. By the early 1960s, the county had enough of the antique contraption. A fierce debate raged in the county between those who thought the jail was unfit for human occupation and those who thought it should be kept intact because of its historic value. In the end, economics outweighed sentiment. The county just couldn’t afford to build a new jail.

The turntable was removed in February, 1964. The inner circle of bars was cut up and sold for scrap. Some of it was used to build two big common pens and a single solitary cell (one piece of the iron bars turned up after being used as a cattle guard; it was returned to the jail site). In this fashion the jail was used until 1975. One pen held male prisoners; the other was for women or juveniles. Running the jail was hard work for the sheriff and his wife, Mrs. Appley remembers. At that time the county only had funds for the sheriff and a part-time deputy. So, the sheriff’s wife kept the books, did the jail work, and the dispatching. Most of the prisoners were local people, said Mrs. Appley. But that began to change when the interstate highway was completed. She remembers one man spending an entire year in the jail. “That was a worse term than if they sent him to prison for a year,” she said.

Conditions got so bad at the jail that the circuit judge refused to put any more prisoners in it. So, Sheriff Appley condemned the building. After that, prisoners were taken wherever there was room in an adjoining county facility. There is a revived interest in the rotary jail. A grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation is funding an architectural study. Another grant has been approved to nominate the facility for the National Register of Historic Places. The county has offered to deed it to the local historical society for a token sum so that it could be used for a county museum. But that group isn’t sure enough funds can be raised to make the necessary repairs. While the future of the structure may be uncertain, its place in architectural history is secure.

Written by Jim McCarty for the June, 1987, edition of “Rural Missouri,” official publication of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Original Construction of the Squirrel Cage Jail Completed for $11,261.15

Col. McFerran supervised the construction of the old stone jail in the northwest corner of the public square in Gallatin. It was planned in 1856 and completed for use on Nov. 15, 1858, at a cost of $3,300. Research of the courthouse records (1885-1888) reveals much about the actions to develop the then new “squirrel cage” jail of 1888.

Col. McFerran supervised the construction of the old stone jail in the northwest corner of the public square in Gallatin. It was planned in 1856 and completed for use on Nov. 15, 1858, at a cost of $3,300. Research of the courthouse records (1885-1888) reveals much about the actions to develop the then new “squirrel cage” jail of 1888.

Starting in the minutes of the county court (Book H, page 400), on April 8, 1885 the county reported an order to Thomas B. Yates, William M. Bostaph and A.M. Irving to act as a committee to view plans and specifications to build a new jail. They were also to propose plans to remove the old jail structure from the public square. The committee was to report back on May 1.

On June 2 the committee estimated that by using materials salvaged from the old jail, and procuring a proper place, a new jail with iron cells — complete with residence quarters for a jailer — would cost about $7,300. The county court took these results under advisement. On Aug. 4, 1885, a petition signed by 264 persons requested an election to vote on a new courthouse and jail. The old buildings had been condemned by a grand jury. The new structures were to be financed by $50,000 in 6% bonds. The election held Oct. 6, 1885, however, failed to gain majority approval for the new construction.

On Monday, Feb. 1, 1886, another petition signed by 168 persons called for a new jail since the old one had been consumed by fire. The funds were to be by special tax of 20-cents per $100 on real and personal property. The election on March 23, 1886, approved the development. On April 6, 1886, James F. Nelland was appointed to oversee the removal of the old jail material and move it to the northwest corner of the William Richards Block. The old privy, which cost $250 in 1859, was to be moved west across the street and off the courthouse square. Neeland was paid $51.30 for his work, and the county court rented the middle cell of the Calaboose (city jail) for six months as a common jail of the court at the rate of $50.

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, 1887, the court ordered A.M. Irving to act as a special commissioner to supervise planning a suitable jail, to make estimates, to submit pleas, and to report back to the court by Jan. 25. Irving was discharged but reappointed to supervise the erection of the new jail and jailer’s quarters. Again, he was to submit plans and to estimate costs.

Irving’s report given Feb. 8 called for a “rotary cell” jail as built by the Pauley Jail Company of St. Louis. The jail and residence was estimated to cost $11,000. Irving proposed that the plan would provide better protection for the sheriff in handling prisoners, better lighting, better ventilation, more security from fire, and better sanitary arrangements. Another system of cell rooms, equal in safety for the detention of prisoners in square cells, would cost about $1,000 less to build.

The court accepted the report on March 1, 1887, and ordered the jail built on land donated by the City of Gallatin on part of the Richards Block. Plans were reviewed again on March 9 and on March 21. The court approved the effort, ordering first payment of $6,000 when the building was completed and received. Interest at 8% was to be paid on the balance, which was to be paid off in a reasonable time. On May 3, 1887, Dekalb County Sheriff James Gibson was paid boarding fees for our county prisoners amounting to $85.60. The court also rented the J.W. Alexander Building for court use at $500 per year on that day.

On Monday, Dec. 3, 1888, Irving was paid for his work, an amount totaling $350, and was discharged. His report of costs on the new jail and jailer’s residence totaled $11,261.15 and was approved by the officers of the county court.

Written by David Stark, Gallatin, October, 1994.

Hand-crank Makes for a Unique Antique

Unusual “squirrel cage” jail, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, also serves as a visitors’ information center in Gallatin, MO.

Unusual “squirrel cage” jail, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, also serves as a visitors’ information center in Gallatin, MO.

  • Only 3 of its kind left in existence
  • Octagon jail structure housing 8 “pie-shaped” cells
  • Hand crank rotated the “squirrel cage”
  • Unique design, outside cage area for exercise and dining; women’s cells upstairs
  • Original squirrel cage was dismantled in 1964 for safety; the jail was closed in 1975
  • Renovation project to continue with efforts now to focus on sheriff’s residence

Rotary jails, where a round “squirrel cage” divided into jail cells spins on a single axis inside a perimeter of stationary bars, are antiques. Six rotary jails are known to have been constructed, all variations off the patented design by the Pauley Jail Building & Mfg. Company of St. Louis. only three still stand as visual markers of yesteryear. The Daviess County Squirrel Cage Jail was completed in 1889. Its unique architectural design provided answers to concerns about prisoner security, worries about both prisoners breaking out and accomplices breaking in. Sanitation, winter heating, and hand-crank operation were problems. With modifications, the jail was in use until 1975. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As you visit, notice how authentic jail bars are beveled and metal plates riveted. Look inside the inmates? locker, secured by antique combination lock since it houses the hand crank which once spun the jail cells. Walk into the cramped pie-shaped cells many were forced to call home for various periods of time. Visitor literature and gift shop items available.

Seasonal operation of the facility as a visitors’ information center will be underwritten by proceeds from an endowment made possible through the estate of Helen Roosevelt in memoriam to her maternal grandfather, Henry Clay McDougal. Informational displays about significant historical facts about Daviess County and Northwest Missouri are on display.

Daviess County Sheriffs Who Used This Facility

  • 1888 Gabe W. Cox
  • 1890 O.P. Walters
  • 1892 E.S. Lankford
  • 1896 William A. Johnson
  • 1900 R.D. McCray
  • 1904 William T. Hutchison
  • 1908 J.A. Blair
  • 1920 J. Frank Gildow
  • 1926 B.B. Houghton
  • 1930 Frank Sweany
  • 1934 W.T. Hutchison
  • 1938 Frank Sweany
  • 1942 Harry Reeder
  • 1946 Frank Sweany
  • 1954 A.F. Clements, Jr.
  • 1958 S.L. Houghton
  • 1970 Harold Appley