REVIEW: 1859 Jail and Marshal’s Home in Independence, MO – Update [History Tour]

When my son and I first started this series of local history daytrips, I basically went onto Google, ran a search for “Museums near me” and started plugging away at the list. Due to the relative proximity to my house, and the fact that I had never gone there before, we went to the Jackson County 1859 Jail and Marshal’s House located in downtown Independence, Missouri fairly early on, and there were always a couple of reasons I wanted to go back. Later this month, I hope to eventually talk about my experiences with a children’s passport program we participated in through the Jackson County Historical Society, and since this site was on the list, we went back to get the stamp and see two things we missed before. First and foremost, we wanted to see the second floor cellblock, an area that had been off-limits for a while, but was recently fixed and deemed structurally sound enough to walk on. Secondly, we were not able to see a small schoolhouse located in the back area of the Jail’s grounds before. I don’t even remember exactly why we missed it before, but I think there was a group out there, and I didn’t want to intrude. Was the second trip worth it, keep reading to find out!

The 1859 Jail and Marshal’s Home; Independence, MO

To see the previous article regarding this location, click HERE

I would recommend doing this site in conjunction with a Pioneer Trails Adventure


From the official website:

“Jackson County constructed this residence and the hidden limestone jail from streetview at 217 Main St. in Independence in 1859. It was built to house the criminals of the early years of this county. This building is one of the oldest surviving structures in Jackson County. Unlock the history of the jailers and their families who lived at the residence and the criminals who occupied the cells. Today you can see the cell where Frank James lived for six months, the home where jailers and county deputy marshals lived, the office of the Jackson County marshal, and touch the mighty limestone and tremendous iron doors guarding each cell.”

Regarding this articles highlighted areas in particular:

The School:

” Located in the courtyard of the Jail site is a one-room schoolhouse. The school was built in the early 1870s by William and Mary Howard for the education of their children. Originally it stood behind the Howard family home in Lee’s Summit and was moved to its present site in 1959. The 12-by-16 foot frame building is completely restored and is a perfect example of an elementary school from that day. The school was given to the Jackson County Historical Society by William T. Howard, a grandson of the builder. During the Civil War, William Bullitt Howard was a prominent landholder in Jackson County, founder of Lee’s Summit, and was a known Southern sympathizer. He was arrested by a Union officer in command in Independence and with his brother-in-law, spent one month in the old jail. His release came after he paid a large sum of money and agreed to move his family to Kentucky for the duration of the war.”

The Refurbished Second Floor:

“The 1859 portion of the jail consisted of six upstairs and six downstairs cells, with two-foot thick walls of limestone blocks. A single kerosene lamp in the hallway provided the only light at night. Two doors, one of grated iron and one of solid iron, were provided for each cell. A window covered with grated iron permitted wind and natural light from the outside to enter the cell. The cells were not heated or cooled. Some prisoners incarcerated inside died of exposure during the jail’s history. Each cell was six by nine feet and designed to hold three prisoners, though, during the Civil War, as many as twenty prisoners were confined in each one.”


Re-posted from my previous article:


My readings for this edition were: Lock Down: Outlaws, Lawmen & Frontier Justice in Jackson County, Missouri (2012) By David W. Jackson and Blood on the Streets: The Civil War comes to Jackson County, Missouri, August 1862 by Ralph A. Monaco II. The former is specifically about the jail, and the latter is a book I already used for my article on the Battle of Lone Jack State Historical Site, it’s useful because it has a section on how the jail came into play during the First Battle of Independence. Both books have purchase links in their respective review pages.

The Trip:

The Refurbished Second Floor:

As stated before, this area was off-limits before and the best I could get was a picture of the closed-off area, This time we were able to walk in and look at the cells. They were literally the same as the lower-level cells, but since those are now packed full of interpretive signs, this is a good way to see one as it would have been a long time ago.

The Schoolhouse:

If you’ve seen one small one-room schoolhouse, you have basically seen them all, but this is still a cool thing to visit. It’s crazy to me that a community’s entire child population would pile into one of these and somehow not be unbearably cramped. This is a cool opportunity to show a younger kid what school life would have been like in the past, my sone was definitely surprised to find out that children of all ages would be together, and that they had to walk there in all sorts of bad weather!


Despite the small size of the 1859 Jail and Marshal’s House located in downtown Independence, Missouri compared to other museums, there is a LOT to do and great information to learn. If you are a history buff, Civil war buff, a true crime buff, or even just somebody in the area looking for something to do, this is a great inexpensive way to spend your day. So, to answer my question – yes, it was a worthwhile trip to visit this a second time in a year, and maybe I’ll do it again next year! One thing I’d love to do is be part of one of their paranormal tours, so perhaps that will be awaiting me in the relative near future.

See More:

For more Missouri/Kansas Area historical daytrips and any accompanying material, click HERE


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