Open the gates to see Jackson County's 1859 Jail, Marshal's house, and museum

CJ Coombs
The front of the 1859 Jail and museum in Independence, Missouri.Photo by ecjmartin1, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

1859 Jail Museum

Unlocking history can be a rewarding experience. If you want to see the cell where Frank James, the older outlaw brother of Jesse James, was kept for six months, visit the 1859 Jail Museum in Independence, Missouri. This is also where the deputy marshals and jailers resided. This facility was the jail for Jackson County, Missouri through 1933 until it was decommissioned. In the late 1950s, the Jackson County Historical Society stepped in to save a piece of history.

The architectural design of the jail was by Asa Beebe Cross, the notable Kansas City architect who also designed the historical Vaile Mansion in Independence. The jail cells were made of limestone and there were 12 of them, six on the upper floor and six on the bottom. The cells were 6 x 9 ft and intended to hold up to three prisoners. However, allegedly some held up to 20 during the Civil In 1907, there was a brick structure constructed at the back of the original jail as a place to keep the chain gangs who worked on public projects like the roads and sewers.

Jackson County built the jail and home for $11,844.20 in 1859--the 2013 equivalent of $325,893.07. (Source.)

Interestingly, the marshal and his family lived in the front of the building in what was called the Marshal's residence. The prisoners received their meals cooked by the marshal's wife. The marshal's salary in 1859 was $50 each month including housing, which would be $1742 today.

Imagine, too, the only available light during the night was a kerosene lamp. Also, since the cells weren't heated, some of the prisoners died. It's really interesting what an individual could be jailed for prior to the Civil War: shooting your guns in town, doing horse racing on public streets, or disturbing the peace or a religious meeting, to name a few.

Restored and open to the public

The jail and marshal's house were restored and opened up to the public as a walk-through museum. In 1970, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The cell that housed Frank James has been preserved the way it was during his incarceration for the museum.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources. (Source.)

In 1958, the jail was acquired by the Jackson County Historical Society and reopened in 1959 as a museum. See and read, Lock Down: Outlaws, Lawmen, & Frontier Justice in Jackson County, Missouri by David W. Jackson and Paul Kirkman available on Amazon.

For a visual of the jail online, go to C-Span's American History TV (Cities Tour-Independence) to view video clips associated with this historical jail: 1859 Jail and Jackson County Marshall's Home.

Click here for information related to museum hours.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms, and I retired early so I could be a writer all day. You could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri because I was born into the Air Force life. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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