1859 Jail Museum
A Jail, A Home, A Legacy
In 1958, a used building materials dealer nearly got permission to demolish the buildings and the right to claim the salvaged stone, brick and timber as the price for his work.
The abandoned buildings were given a new lease on life when a group of civic minded citizens realized that there was yet another historic role for the unassuming two-story house at the corner of Main Street and what is now Truman Road.
The one hundred year old brick home seems quaint and plain from the front, but it is adjoined by a building containing 12 massive limestone jail cells. Enter the freshly incorporated Jackson County Historical Society with the hand of former president, Harry S Truman, making the first restoration fund-raising campaign call in 1959.
Ever since that brush with the wrecking ball, the Jackson County Historical Society has owned and operated the 1859 Jail Museum. The brick and limestone buildings hold an intense history that starts with the Missouri-Kansas Border War through the Great Depression.
The building, owned by the Jackson County Historical Society, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Read the nomination form.
For the amount of $11,844.20 in 1859--the 2013 equivalent of $325,893.07--the county built a jail and home for the marshal. The brick, Federal style house and adjoining limestone jail was designed by Asa Beebe (AB) Cross, "the pioneer architect" based out of Kansas City.
A Story in the Cells
In between the jail's construction in 1859 and the final decommissioning in 1933 a lot happened in the limestone cells--we call it history. Guerilla raider, William Quantrill, met an angry mob upon his release from the facility. Scores of Women and Children were detained behind bars during Order Number 11. The infamous Frank James roamed the halls of the jail and read many a classic book in his cell. In the 1900s inmates were chained together and put to work building new roads for a rapidly developing county.
After the last jailer hung up his keys, the county found a use for the jail and home when it housed several offices, work training programs and government bureaus during the Great Depression.
You Have The Key
To truly unlock the history of criminals and everyday folk in the home and cells, we recommend a walk through the old lock down and a stroll through the big house. You can see the cell where Frank James lived for six months, the home where the Marshal's family lived and touch the mighty limestone and tremendous iron doors guarding each cell.
Find out the true meaning of "Frontier Justice" within these walls. And if that doesn't quite satisfy your appetite for penal history we have our very own book, LOCK DOWN, about the building's history including lots of information about the people held in the cells, the Marshals who inhabited the home and the changes in decor over the years. You can purchase it in our online bookstore.
The museum welcomes visitors from April 1 through October 31.
We reopen for the holiday season with "Spirit of Christmas Past," November 29 through December 30.
Visiting hours are 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Saturday; 1:00pm to 4:00pm on Sunday.
Closed for the following holidays:
Easter, Mother's Day, Christmas (December 23, 24, 25)
The site is closed December 31 through March 31 for maintenance and refurbishment, but we can still offer private guided tours during this time.
$5.00 Seniors 55+
$3.00 Ages 6 - 16
Free Age 5 and under
GROUP TOURS FOR 10 OR MORE PEOPLE ARE AVAILABLE BY ADVANCE APPOINTMENT ONLY. LIMIT 20 PEOPLE PER TOUR.
The Jackson County Historical Society (JCHS) is appealing to local businesses and residents for assistance in restoring the seven windows that face Main Street at the 1859 Jail Museum. 2019 marks the 60th Anniversary of the 1859 Jail becoming a museum, and marks 160 years since construction began on the Jail. Donors are asked to consider adopting one or more windows at the 1859 Jail Museum in honor of historic preservation. The average cost is $3500 for one completely restored window. Donations made at $1000 or above will receive recognition on a commemorative gold plaque, but any amount you can contribute will help JCHS reach our goal!
In 2018, JCHS entered into a contract with STRATA Architecture + Preservation to complete a historic structure report for the 1859 Jail building. We are currently in the first phase of our restoration, which is to restore the west facing windows, masonry repairs on the chimney and load bearing walls, and plaster repairs. The Sunderland Foundation in Kansas City awarded JCHS with a $75,000 grant to begin the repairs, and we are fervently working to raise funds for the next phase of work.
JCHS saved the building from demolition in 1958 and opened as a museum on June 28th, 1959. The 1859 Jail Museum was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and continues to operate as one of the earliest museums in Independence. To date, JCHS replaced the roof and one of the three HVAC systems at the 1859 Jail Museum.
We hope you will consider making a special gift to help restore the windows or contribute to the additional work that needs to be done to preserve the 1859 Jail Museum for the next 160 years!