Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana

One of the few operable rotary jails in the United States can be explored at the Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. For nearly 100 years, the Montgomery County Sheriff and the area’s jail was housed at this Hoosier landmark. What’s so unique about this jail is its design, which allowed the facility to efficiently operate with minimal staff. Only two other jails like this still exist in the country, one in Tennessee and another in Iowa. If you’re looking for an educational and unique day trip from Indianapolis, head 50 miles northwest of the Circle City to visit the Rotary Jail Museum.

The jail’s design was originally patented in 1881 by the two Indianapolis residents William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh. Only seven jails with this design were ever built, and the Crawfordsville facility was the first. The cells were built on a rotary system, which was divided somewhat like slices of pie. One jailer turned the crank, while the metal turntable rotated to allow access to the different tiered cells. The designers wanted to develop the facility so that one jail keeper could manage all inmates at any given time and never have physical contact with any of them. Although it looked like something out of the Middle Ages, the jail was considered state-of-the-art at that time.

From 1882 to 1973, the Montgomery County Jail detained all local prisoners. It was also a common practice for the County Sheriff to live on jail grounds. This particular home had eight rooms for the sheriff and his family, and the back of the home was actually connected to the jail. The home is now used for historic displays, community events and area workshops.

In the 1930s, controversy arose at the jail. Charges of unsanitary, dark and inadequate cell spaces were brought by a state board in 1930. Another hazardous issue involved the large pipe running through the center of the cells. Steam heating was spread by this pipe, and waste was carried from inmates’ toilets to the city sewers on this route as well. The pipe was responsible for heating the jail cells, but it couldn’t radiate properly. The radiators were unable to be repaired and many other problems with the facility remained. Despite efforts for improvement, the jail was ordered to close in 1973.

Crawfordsville, Indiana is a fun destination for a day trip from Indy. Admission to the Rotary Jail Museum is only a few dollars, and scheduled tours are available.

The General Lew Wallace Study and Museum is a historic site located nearby, so this day trip could include tons more adventure. Another close Indiana attraction is the Clabber Girl Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Sullivan County Park is in the area, this Indiana park is a great spot for a picnic. Just north of the Rotary Jail Museum is Tippecanoe County, home of Purdue University. West Lafayette, Indiana is a cool Indiana college town that’s fun to explore. Tippecanoe Battlefield Park and Columbian Park are just a few of the interesting nearby day trip destinations. There are tons of exciting things to do in Indiana, inside of Indy and all around the Crossroads of America.

Rotary Jail Museum
225 North Washington Street
Crawfordsville, Indiana