Wouldn’t it Make a Great Full-time Jail Museum?

20130901_121228 - Copy“The Grey Eagle” of Princess Anne, Maryland has been known for its historic status.  And I understand the Princess Anne Police Department, which has its offices in the old building, periodically opens its doors to the public. On all other days, the building resumes its role as the Princess Anne Police Department.

Well, I say that if the Police Department ever outgrows its facilities, it would be a wonderful thing if the town turned the old Grey Eagle into a full-time museum.

About a year or so ago a friend and I showed up on an ordinary day and the nice young woman behind the desk gave us an impromptu guided tour even though it wasn’t a tour day.  We were so very grateful for the generosity of spirit. She proudly showed off the building. In 2008, the Town of Princess Anne and the Princess Anne Police Department completed restorations, and rededicated the “Grey Eagle” as a symbol of pride in historic Princess Anne, as the police department website says.

My friend and I didn’t know the name of our helpful tour guide, but she engaged us with her wide-eyed pride of the restorations to the building and gladly told us some of the jail’s history, the good and the bad (well, afterall, it was a jail).  And upstairs, some other nice person, a young man who we also don’t recall the name, added to the tour with his explanation of the cells and how they resembled or differed from the older structure.  They pointed out the small exhibit of artifacts and explained the interesting features of the interior.  But what I particularly loved was their unabashed enthusiasm and interest in a history that is often difficult to discuss but oddly easier to discuss in just such a museum.

Warrenton old jail museumThis has happened elsewhere, as there are other jail museums.  I’ve not personally visited any but would love to.   Fauquier County, Virginia operates the Old Jail Museum.  According to their website,

The original four-cell jail was built in 1808. In 1823, a larger stone jail was built just to the rear of the older structure and the 1808 jail was then converted into a house for the jailor.  The rear structure contains original cells as well as an exercise yard, which was also used as a hanging yard; hangings took place in the yard until 1896. This is one of the most perfectly preserved old jails in Virginia, and operated as a jail until 1966. The Old Jail is located next to the Old Courthouse built in 1890, which is copied after the Parthenon in Athens. Today, the Old Jail is the home of the Fauquier Historical Society and the county historical museum. Museum exhibits include the original jail structures along with a collection of artifacts and items representing the history of Fauquier County’s Native Americans, revolutionary era, Civil War era and Colonel John S. Mosby plus early industry, toys and more.


Logo_Pic_3-369x492Another Old Jail Museum exists in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.  Their website includes a history of the museum:

Resembling a fortress standing guard over the town of Jim Thorpe (formerly known as Mauch Chunk), the historic Old Jail Museum is a  beautiful two-story stone structure.  Completed in 1871 it was used as the Carbon County Prison from 1871 until January 1995 when it was purchased by Tom McBride and his wife, Betty Lou, of Jim Thorpe.

The website further describes some of the history:

The building is best known as the site of the hanging of seven Irish coal miners known as Molly Maguires in the 1800s.  On June 21, 1877, today known as the Day of the Rope, Alexander Campbell, Edward Kelly, Michael Doyle and John Donohue were hanged at the same time on gallows erected inside the Old Jail Museum cell block.  On March 28, 1878, Thomas P. Fisher was hanged here, and on January 14, 1879, James McDonnell and Charles Sharp were hanged on the same gallows.

This may all seem like a whimsical notion, but I am actually serious.  The memory of those two interesting members of the community pressed into action as tour guides and who did so with as much awe and interest of the history as their visitors (us) experienced, made me see how something as simple as an old jail museum might be a wonderful healing addition to a community.  Wouldn’t it be interesting?  Sure, odd, but interesting!

— Linda Duyer

Below:  the old and the new “Old Grey Eagle”


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