Exploring the Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

I know what you’re thinking, but unfortunately this is not a post about a historic jail for squirrels. Though how hilarious would that be?

Instead the Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail is one of only 18 revolving, rotary-style jails ever built and a pretty cool (albeit creepy) site to behold. I visited earlier this spring with a friend hailing from Council Bluffs and loved checking a long-standing item off my bucket list.

Wandering around the three-story jail, there’s definitely an eerie vibe with initials and messages scrawled on the walls with soot along with peeling paint and creaky stairs galore. Overall though, I tried my hardest to focus on the sunny afternoon and ignore the jail’s haunted history.

A brief history of the Squirrel Cage Jail

Built in 1885 for $30,000, the Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cafe Jail was in use until 1969. While a number of other “lazy Susan” jails were built, Iowa’s is the only three-story one ever constructed.

Designed by Indianapolis architects William H. Brown and Benjamin F. Haugh, the jail features revolving pie-shaped cells inside a cage designed to disallowed prisoners from escaping. The rotary plate was cranked by hand to allow the jailer to rotate the cells and access individual inmates, should  a problem arise. The jail also included offices for the jailer, kitchen, trustee cells, and quarters for women.

If you visit the Squirrel Cage Jail

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

While the Squirrel Cage Jail isn’t free (and might be a bit out of your way), it’s a great afternoon detour for any lover of weird history.

ADMISSION
Adults: $7
Seniors (60 & over): $6
Ages 6 – 12: $5
Age 5 & under Historic Society members: FREE

HOURS
Tuesday through Saturday: 10 am to 4 pm
Sunday: 1 pm to 4 pm
Closed during January and on all major holidays

Historic Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail, 226 Pearl Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

All Rights Reserved Megan Bannister

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