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Historic Pottawattamie County 
Squirrel Cage Jail

Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail
The unique Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs served as the Pottawattamie County Jail from 1885 until 1969. 

226 Pearl Street
(I-80, Exit 3 - Go north on South Expressway towards downtown Council Bluffs)
Council Bluffs, Iowa  51503
Information on directions HERE from Google Maps
Limited Free Parking is available onsite; Metered Parking in adjacent lot
Phone (712) 323-2509

Tuesday through Saturday:  10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday:  1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Closed month of January; available by private appointment only

Closed Major Holidays

Adults:  $7.00
Seniors (60 & over) and AAA Members:  $6.00
Age 6 - 12:  $5.00
Age 5 & under and HSPC Members:  FREE

Group tours of 15 or more are welcome.  To schedule an appointment, please phone, write, or e-mail.

Visit the Squirrel Cage Jail on Facebook

Sign in front of Squirrel Cage JailSign in front of Squirrel Cage Jail
The Jail was built in 1885 and was in continuous use until 1969.   It was acquired by the Council Bluffs Park Board in 1971 for preservation, and was named to the
National Register of Historic Places in 1972 by the United States Government.  The Historical Society led an effort in 1977 to save the jail, and today owns and operates the facility. 

The design and size of the Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail make it a one-of-a-kind structure.  It was one of 18 revolving (“squirrel cage”, "human rotary", or "lazy Susan") jails built.  It is the only three-story one ever built.   

Built at a cost of about $30,000,  our unique jail has three floors of revolving pie-shaped cells inside a cage.  The front part of the building had offices for the jailer, kitchen, trustee cells, and quarters for women.

Model of the Squirrel Cage JailThe design was the invention of William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh, both of Indianapolis, Indiana.  A patent issued to them on July 12, 1881, declared, "The object of our invention is to produce a jail in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer."  It was to provide "maximum security with minimum jailer attention."  As one deputy put it, "If a jailer could count ... and he had a trusty he could trust ... he could control the jail".

The cell section remains much as it did in 1969 when it was closed by the county.  The signatures and dates of many of its' infamous prisoners remain scratched in the cell walls. It remains a well restored snapshot of an interesting era of our society.

Today, only 3 revolving jails remain:  a one-story structure in Gallatin, Missouri; a two-story jail in Crawfordsville, Indiana; and the unique three-story jail here.  All three are preserved as museums. 

During a guided tour of the JailThe Squirrel Cage Jail provides students and adults the opportunity to experience first-hand a unique piece of cultural and architectural history and to gain an understanding of this building’s unique place in cultural and national history.  Its one-of-a-kind structure is unlikely to be duplicated again.    


    Visit the Squirrel Cage Jail Gift Shop online



The Historical Society thanks our corporate members including:


red giant oil company Frontier Savings Bank hgm associates incorporated council bluffs chamber of commerce
Red Giant Oil Co Frontier Savings Bank HGM Associates Inc C.B. Chamber of Commerce Warner Family Dentistry

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The Historical Society of Pottawattamie County, Iowa was founded in 1934 and is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to kindling and keeping alive an active interest in state and local history.  Contributions and inquiries should be directed to the Society  at P.O. Box 2, Council Bluffs, Iowa 51502-0002.  For additional information, phone 712-323-2509 or e-mail us here.

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