Places of law and order were among the first buildings constructed in new towns in Indiana, be they courthouses, sheriff’s homes, and jails.
Indianapolis was no different, with the first Marion County jail completed in 1824. Located on the northwest corner of Delaware and Market Streets, the jail was comprised of heavy hewn logs and cost $312 (plus $59 to clear the wooded site). This lasted until 1833, when the jail burned down in an escape attempt. A two-story brick structure was then built as the second county jail, this time located at the southwest corner of Alabama and Martket Streets. It cost $60,000 and had the sheriff’s residence on the second floor. In 1845, this building was expanded with a log addition. By 1852, the third county jail was built, this one being of stone, again on the southwest corner of Alabama and Market Streets, northeast of the county courthouse. The structure cost $100,000. Notably, it was this jail that was stormed by an upset citizenry (an angry mob) on January 29, 1879, and three prisoners, two of whom were accused murderers, were lynched.
The fourth Marion County jail, the subject of today’s Preservation Denied, was built in 1891 on the northwest corner of Alabama and Maryland Streets. The three-story castle-like Indiana limestone edifice cost $175,000 and featured several turrets capped with conical roofs. It was designed to accommodate 150 prisoners, as well as the sheriff department’s offices, and the living space for the sheriff and family. As mentioned in an earlier article, the Indianapolis city jail was later located across Alabama Street from the county jail.
The Marion County jail around 1900. The sheriff’s dwelling and offices were located in the part to the left; the jail proper is the part of the structure in the back. (Hyman’s Handbook of Indianapolis, 1907)
1914 Sanborn map showing the jail. The sheriff’s dwelling was located in the right part of the T-shaped building, with the jail cells in the long part. (IUPUI Sanborn map collection)
The jail circa 1961. The conical turret roofs had been removed by that time. Notably, the iron fence seen in the 1900 photo still remained in good condition. Note the county courthouse being demolished in the background. (IUPUI/IL collection)
By 1930, the jail was being regularly occupied by 200 prisoners, with the average number increasing to 291 in 1940 and nearly 500 by 1958. The overcrowding caused a push for the fifth jail to be built, with its groundbreaking in December 1963. The new building was opened in August 1965, and the old jail demolished for a parking lot. Through at least two additions in 1978 and 1985, the new jail now occupies half of the entire city block (its parking lot occupies the other half).
Primary source: Marion County Jail History