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.

A rendering of the 1889 Squirrel Cage Jail was lifted off blueprints and used in various promotional marketing brochures.

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.

The squirrel cage of the jail encircled rotating jail cells. The cage was stationary, with security doors positioned for only one entry/exit and in ways allowing the jailer to always keep inmates behind bars if he so chose. There was no welding when originally constructed in 1889. Vertical steel strips were notched so that horizontal bars could bisect. Each horizontal bar was actually two pieces, notched and angled so as to be secure when knocked into place.

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.

Everything about the 1889 Sqirrel Cage Jail was designed for security — keeping prisoners behind bars at all times. Thus this “grub hole” allowed for plates of food to pass through the octogan-shaped brick jail wall while keeping prisoners incarcerated. Originally, the wife of each man elected sheriff was obligated to provide meals to prisoners as part of the agreement in the county providing the residence for the sheriff’s use.

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

This brass plaque fixed on the entry door of the county’s squirrel cage jail attests to the unique structure’s authenticity.


  • 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 eight “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 visitors’ information center by the Daviess County Historical Society


This slideshow requires JavaScript.