Old Michigan Jailhouses, 1870s-1922
Jail houses and prisons date back thousands of years with histories that are so morbid and horrific, you wonder how some of the prisoners from back then survived. Many did not.
Men were chained to walls, stripped of clothing, thrown into holes, beaten, tortured, starved, neglected, kept in the dark…diseased prisoners were left to die with no medical help. This went on worldwide.
Quite a difference from what we have now.
Michigan’s first prison was built in Jackson in 1838, opening in in 1839. The first permanent prison came along in 1842, the Michigan State Prison, or Jackson State Prison. It was the world's largest walled prison housing over 2000 inmates with an extensive history of riots, neglect, escapes, wrongful deaths, sickness, torture and cruelty. And they even incarcerated women, although not many; only ten females were inmates up until 1852.
There were thousands of local jail houses throughout Michigan as well. Most small towns and cities had their own type of jailhouses – some elaborate, others very simple. But they did the job. Jails could be found within township halls, police stations, and even in the homes of police officers and sheriffs. Many of these minor jails could have two or three cells, and many times just one. Most of them were typically similar.
In 1926, the Jackson prison found itself in a new building surrounded by a wall with 6,000 prisoners. The old 1842 building was used as a National Guard armory for years…in the 1960s, the armory hosted rock bands and dances during the summer which brought in kids from all over Mid-Michigan.
The prison’s new location was re-named the State Prison of Southern Michigan in 1935 – or the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility – it closed down in 2007.
The old building is now part residential, part art project.
Many of Michigan’s small town jails still exist, others had the cells stripped out to make space for offices. Take a look below at some of Michigan’s town jail. As for some of ‘em, you’ll probably be glad you never had to spend time there…
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