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.
The 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.
The 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.
"Squirrel Cage" Jail Museum
226 Pearl Street, Council Bluffs, Iowa
CLOSED EASTER SUNDAY April 21
Open April through October Thursday, Friday, Saturday 11am-4pm and Sunday 1pm-4pm
Open November through March Saturday 11am-4pm and Sunday 1pm-4pm.
Please arrive a half hour before closing to make sure you have ample time to enjoy the exhibits. Please contact us in advance to arrange group tours.
Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County members: Free
Seniors (60 & over) and AAA Members: $6.00
Ages 6 - 12: $5.00
Ages 5 and under free
Learn more! You can purchase books about the "Squirrel Cage" and its most memorable inmates at the museum gift shop.
Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County
County Seat Council Bluffs, Iowa
Real Property Management LLC
So why did Council Bluffs have a roatary cell jail? The events that led to it probably started with a steamboat that became stuck on a sandbar in the Missouri River in August, 1859. Learn more at our upcoming program, Council Bluffs: Where the East Ended. Hear how a chance encounter between an aspiring politician and a young railroad surveyor changed the future of Council Bluffs, the Midwest, the nation and quite possibly the world as local history enthusiast Danette Hein-Snider and Dr. Richard Warner from the Historical and Preservation Society present Council Bluffs: Where the East Ended-- and Why. The program will be Wednesday, April 24, 6 pm at the Council Bluffs library. There is no admission charge and the public is invited.
Free Wine Tasting with a paid tour at the Squirrel Cage Jail
Come visit the Squirrel Cage Jail on Saturday, April 20th and introduce yourself to the showcase wines developed exclusively for the jail. In partnership with Prairie Crossing Winery in Treynor, IA, our inaugural wines Doing Time and Behind Bars will be available to the public.