Imagine a jail where the jailer doesn’t have to walk to his prisoners; he can turn a crank and bring each cell to him, one at a time.
Buildings that revolve or that have portions that do have been a dream for centuries, but generally never moved past the design stage. The rotary cell jail was very real. Touted as cost effective, modern, and escape-proof the concept spread quickly throughout the Midwest. Mechanization was coming of age; invention of the telephone and building of the transcontinental railroad fostered the notion man could solve any problem with his innovations.
Nationally the enthusiasm for the rotary jails waned almost as quickly as it had spread. Decried as inhumane and dangerous, most were rapidly dismantled or converted to more traditional cells. Perhaps the most unique thing about the rotary cell jail in Council Bluffs is how long is lasted. Despite repeated efforts to close it, the “Squirrel Cage” remained the Pottawattamie County jail for 84 years.
Learn more about Council Bluffs' unique jail at www.TheHistoricalSociety.org and join us on Facebook at Squirrel Cage Jail of Pottawattamie County, Iowa.