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

The locker at the jail entrance not only secured personal items for inmates but also housed the hand crank used to spin the squirrel cage. This is how the jail entry appeared before renovations began in 1992.

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.

This undated photo is one of the most widely circulated photos of the sheriff’s residence fronting the Daviess County Squirrel Cage Jail.

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.

Originally designed to operate 8 jail cells rotating behind the stationary bars of the “squirrel cage,” the jail was changed to be two large holding areas. A solid metal wall bisected the building; squirrel cage bars were configured to provide two holding cells (right). Metal panels lined walls and ceiling with concrete poured for floors and to secure toiletries. Window openings were downsized, with metal grating welded over the openings for security. (date unknown)

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

Sheriff Leland Houghton stands on the west side of his residence attached to the Daviess County Jail. In September of 1977 Sheriff Houghton was shot to death after towing a 16-year-old’s car following a traffic violation. He is the only one of 17 sheriffs who lived and operated this jail facility to be killed while on duty.