Historic Squirrel Cage Jail Museum


The county jail was built in 1865 at a cost of $30,000, most of which was spent on engineering. The so-called "Squirrel Cage Jail" is essentially a three-story lazy-susan, with each level divided into 10 pie-shaped cells. A jailer could rotate the entire unit with just a hand crank. The design was patented in 1881 by William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh, both of Indianapolis, "to produce a jail in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer." The jail held up to 63 prisoners, who could not leave their cells unless their cell was cranked around to the single doorway on their level.

Activity Details

Activity Type:Trips and Destinations
Discipline:Civil, Mechanical
Topic(s):Technology/Materials
Grade:K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12
Time:Full day

Fun Fact:The town of Kanesville was settled by Mormons in 1846 and, when they left in 1852, was renamed Council Bluffs, for the council that was held between the Missouri Indians and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1863, President Lincoln selected the city as the eastern terminus of the country's first transcontinental railroad.