A Preservation Success Story: 150 Year-Old Jail Saved in Princess Anne

The question of what to do with an old, worn-out jail comes up in Maryland occasionally.  When it does, there are some that say these aging structures, relics from an earlier era, are just in the way of progress and have no value.  But others argue that the aging walls, survivors of centuries, adds to the cultural fabric, enhancing the built environment.  If a decision is made to preserve the institution some sort of adaptive reuse is often called for as the strong structure is converted into offices, police stations, museums, shops, or hotels.  But there have been some instances where they are still used to detain wayward types.

Down in Princess Anne this question was before the local governing and civic boards in 1999 as they grappled with whether a 150 year-old county hoosegow had any value in the modern age.   Fortunately Somerset County and Princess Anne are places that value historic preservation and so after much deliberation it was decided that there was a value proposition for the community in preserving the old jail.

In an acclaimed project that has received preservation awards, the “Grey Eagle,” a place that confined notorious types from 1857 to 1987, was preserved and today is the Princess Anne Police Department headquarters.  Standing vacant for over a decade after a modern detention center was built, the Town of Princess Anne considered demolishing the building in 1999 because of “its increasing decrepit state.”

But the vocal preservation-oriented community saw economic development value in adaptive reuse however, so the political leadership restored the structure with the help of the Maryland Historical Trust and other stakeholders. Today, this finely restored prison, built of Port Deposit Granite, adds great value from a practical and preservation standpoint as it’s the police station.  It is a strong contributor to the historic district and, according to the town is a “symbol of pride.”’

The Grey Lady, the Old Somerset County Jail in Princess Anne is now the headquarters for the police department.

The Grey Lady, the Old Somerset County Jail in Princess Anne is now the headquarters for the police department.


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