Rotary jail

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Rotary jail in Gallatin, Missouri

A Rotary jail was an architectural design for some prisons in the US Midwest during the late 19th century. Cells in the jails were arranged so that they rotated in a carousel fashion; allowing only one cell at a time to be accessible from the single opening per level.

Design and patent[edit]

The rotary jail was initially designed by architect William H. Brown, and built by the Haugh, Ketcham & Co. iron foundry in the Indianapolis, Indiana neighborhood of Haughville.

Cover sheet for patent application.

The application for United States Patent No. 244,358, on July 12, 1881 has this description:

The object of our inventions is to produce a jail in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer or guard... it consists, first, of a circular cell structure of considerable size (inside the usual prison building) divided into several cells capable of being rotated, surrounded by a grating in close proximity thereto, which has only such number of openings (usually one) as is necessary for the convenient handling of prisoners.

Features[edit]

Detail diagram of central core plumbing connections to cell.

The pie-shaped cells rotated around a core having a sanitary plumbing system, which was considered an unusual luxury at that time. The cell block could be rotated by a single man hand-rotating a crank. It was connected to gears beneath the structure which rotated the entire cell block. The structure was supported by a ball bearing surface to allow for smooth rotation.

Condemned[edit]

The jails encountered problems almost immediately with inmates' limbs being crushed or interfering with the cellblock's rotation. Most of the jails had to be welded in a fixed position and refitted with individual cell accesses. All of them were condemned by June 22nd, 1939.

Locations[edit]

Sources vary as to how many rotary jails had been built. The cited number varies from six to eighteen. Below are eight known rotary jail locations:

Structures still standing (although turned into museums and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places):

Jails torn down:

References[edit]

  1. ^ Marimen, Mark et al (2008). Weird Indiana: Your Travel Guide to Indiana's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Sterling. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-4027-5452-4. 

External links[edit]