Rotary Jail Museum
and Tannenbaum
Cultural Center

History

History of the Rotary Jail

The Montgomery County Rotary Jail opened in 1882 as a solution to the problem of housing prisoners safely and efficiently. Its unique structure as a rotary jail was the first of its kind ever built in the United States. Today, it stands as the only operational rotary jail structure in the country.

Builders William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh of Indianapolis believed their patented design would help maintain strict Victorian social order by limiting personal contact between inmate and jailer. By rotating a hand crank on which the two-tiered turntable pivoted, a jailer could bring one of sixteen pie-shaped cells to the opening, allowing one prisoner in or out.

Attached to Montgomery County’s unique jail stands a two-story home of architectural interest itself. The sheriff and his family occupied the main and second floors of the Eastlake-style home.

The jail operated as intended for the next five decades. By 1930, however, few Hoosiers marveled at the jail’s extraordinary design. The Indiana State Board of Charities' investigators noted, “This structure of brick and steel is old, insecure, unsafe . . . natural light and ventilation are poor. The revolving cell block offers dark, unsanitary cells for the sixteen men it accommodates.”

Trying to salvage the county’s investment, jailers modified the building over the next four decades, primarily by immobilizing the turntable and making other upgrades to satisfy changing codes. In 1967, after numerous condemnations by inspectors, a Montgomery County grand jury ordered the structure abandoned. The jail closed in 1973, after serving the county for 91 years.

The building has since been converted to a museum under the care of the Montgomery County Cultural Foundation. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

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