The antique Pottawattamie County Rotary Jail at Council Bluffs, IA, is the largest of the three rotary jails existent in the United States.

The Pottawattamie County Rotary Jail in Council Bluffs, IA, was built in 1885. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

This jail is impressive since its squirrel cage housed inmates on three levels. Although no longer operational, all three levels once spun simultaneously on a central axle much like the simpler single-story squirrel cage which operated at Gallatin, MO.

The 3-story antique jail at Council Bluffs measures 28 feet tall. A hand crank fit onto a driveshaft at the jail’s entrance; turning the crank turned the rotary jail. The rotary jail operated as designed until 1960 when the Fire Marshal required doorways to be cut in the stationary cage.

Jail cell ventilation was of particular interest. Apartment accommodations above the rotary jail were offered to one inmate selected to act as jailer for other prisoners at Council Bluffs. The apartment was furnished, although not as eloquently as with period pieces on display today. Perched above the jail cells, the apartment was odorous especially during the hot summer season.

Each rotary jail has its own history and unique stories. For instance, tour guides at the Pottawattamie County Jail in Council Bluffs will explain the unusual confinement of Bohemian farmers during a milk riot.