Sheriff, The Prisoners Are Getting Dizzy…

In Crawfordsville, IN, there is a “Rotary Jail” housed in the Montgomery County Old Jail Museum. Constructed in 1882, it was hailed as an “Industrial Age solution to housing prisoners safely and efficiently.” There were a total of 16 pie-shaped cells on two-tiers. The cells could only be accessed when their opening was aligned with the only door and that was accomplished when the jailor rotated the entire two-floor section using a handwheel connected to a large gear mechanism.

Crawfordsville Rotary Jail

In this diagram, the jailor’s area is on the left. The entire two tiers rotate within the steel bars until the desired opening aligns with that door.

Old Jail Museum Building





The Jail is located in the rear of the building (to the right). The front of the building was the Sheriff’s family home.

Circular Jail




Most of the prisoners back then were only kept for a couple of days – usually due to alcohol abuse. Only men were kept in these pie-shaped cells – there were two cells for women who were most often convicted of prostitution. There were also three stationary cells on the third floor reserved for sick prisoners.

Individual Cell

The space at the end of the cell was for the privy. Although the jail had rudimentary plumbing to wash away the collecting mess in the basement, I’m guessing that the smell was was a bit like the swine truck I was unfortunately stuck behind this morning.

By the 1930’s, whatever design benefits the rotary jail provided was overshadowed by health and prison inspectors who found the jail to  be unsafe, unsanitary, and suffering from poor lighting and ventilation. The jail was updated periodically to meet standards, but was finally shut down in 1967.


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