Allen County Jail

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City/Town:
Location Class:
Year Built: October 7, 1869 | Year Abandoned: December 2, 1958
Historic Designation:
Status: Restored
Photojournalist: Trevor Hoag

Kansas Memory Collection

Through the 1860s, Allen County struggled over their lack of a jail, proclaiming criminals looked at the Allen County judicial system as a laughing stock and encouraged them to commit crimes. Criminals with serious charges were taken to Franklin County’s jail in Ottawa, and cost $72 per full-week trip for meals, lodging, and horse hire. There was no other incarceration option for non-violent criminals such as a calaboose nearby. Finally, in August 1868 the citizens of Allen County voted 489-386 for the approval of an $8,400 jail to be built. A two-story, limestone and Bandera marble was erected by the White and Hays firm in the town of Iola. Iola was chosen because it was the location of the County Seat of Allen County. The walls of the jail were two-feet thick, with the first-floor housing the wooden jail cells with iron bars and the upper floor being quarters for the jailers. During later years the entire jail was covered in stucco, a practice that became popular around the 1920s. Later the stucco was removed in phases to reveal the beautiful limestone underneath again, the last phase was conducted in 1986.

Opening on October 7, 1869, the jail was apparently unused until June of 1870 when the first log was made in the jail book but it is unknown if they disregarded the log in the months before. The jail deemed inescapable quickly didn’t live up to the name. On July 17, 1870, six prisoners escaped from the jail by sawing off two of the bars on the window grate. The first alarm to guards was from one of the other three prisoners that remained to face the judicial system rather than escape. The deputy sheriff then ran outside in an attempt to capture the escaped but could find no evidence of where they had gone. Just a few weeks earlier a man by the name of E.G. Dalson was locked away in the jail on charges of murdering his stepson. The boy had gone missing in April and after the concern and investigation of neighbors was found at the bottom of an unused well. Thus E.G. Dalson confessed to breaking his neck after a disagreement and disposing of his body in the well leading to his arrest. After his booking a mob of disguised men rushed the jail, gagging the sheriff and obtaining his keys. They released Dalson only to take him into their custody where they then brought him to an old barn in Cofachique Kansas and lynched him.

After several escapes and twenty-years passing since being built, it was due for some updates. In 1891, a large steel cage was manufactured in Kentucky and brought to Iola for assembly. The steel cages were much stronger than the previous wood and iron cells so that fewer escapes were possible. The cells were locked and unlocked from levers enclosed in a case. Again in 1904, the jail was remodeled this time creating more cells upstairs. The iron stairway on the outside was removed and the door sealed. A small narrow stairway was constructed inside to connect the two floors. The new Allen County Courthouse & Jail were built and the old county jail was closed on December 2, 1958. The five prisoners residing there were transferred to the new facility.

Shortly after its closure, a special act of the Kansas Legislature allowed the Allen County Commissioners to give the deed to the jail to the Allen County Historical Society. The Historical Society began remodeling and repairing the building so that it could be opened as a museum.  The Old Jail Museum was opened to the public on May 30, 1962, and had 1,677 visitors during the first month it was opened. In 1977, the U.S. Department of the Interior placed the Old Jail on the National Register of Historic Places.

Article by AKS Photojournalist Emily Cowan.

Tours are available through the Allen County Historical Society.

Gallery Below




Bibliography

“2 Jul 1870, 2 – The Guilford Citizen at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/422283162/?terms=iola%20jail&match=1.

“23 Jul 1870, Page 3 – Lawrence Daily Journal at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/59541008/?terms=iola%20jail&match=1.

“4 Dec 1891, Page 5 – The Iola Register at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/4821638/?terms=allen%20county%20jail&match=1.

“Jail in Allen County, Kansas.” Kansas Memory, www.kansasmemory.org/item/226878.

“Old Jail Museum.” Allen County Historical Society, allencountyhistory.weebly.com/old-jail-museum.html.

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