Dorchester County’s Fine Jail Opened to Prisoners in 1883

Sanborn Map showing the Dorchester County Jail in 1891.

Sanborn Map showing the Dorchester County Jail in 1891.

The beautifully situated Dorchester County Jail, with a fine view of the Choptank River, furnished a rather attractive spot for wayward types to idle away the days, reflecting on their crimes.   Opened in 1883, the granite Jail and Sheriff’s House, a Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival Style building, stood in back of the courthouse.  It had four tiers of cells, one on each side of a central passage-way on the first and second floors.  The front portion was fitted up as a residence for the Sheriff, who had “more comfortable quarters probably than any of his bother officials on the Easter Shore,” the Baltimore Sun reported.  Charles L. Carson of Baltimore was the architect and J. E. Chilecutt and R. H. Stevens of Dorchester County were the builders.

Its first two occupants were two men arrested for catching oysters without a license.  They had good to reason to congratulate themselves that their offense was not committed during the days of the old Cambridge jail, which was built about 1790, the Sun reported.

The Denton Union (Caroline County) took a few jabs at the new public structure, calling the fine large stone building of modern construction “Dorchester’s Folly.”  It was going to provide criminals with “better board and more comfortable quarters than they ever before had been accustomed to.”  The cost for building the “imposing stone castle” also put a premium on vice, “encouraging violations of the law in order that the violators may get into a gilded hall where they me be well fed, warmed, and clothed,” the paper added.

The Denton Union seemed to “have no conception of the fact that we live in a liberal age” the Baltimore Sun said in coming to the defense of Dorchester County.  If the Union represented the human and enlightened spirit of Caroline County, the jail of that county must be a dreadful place indeed they warned.  There is no reason why Dorchester should not have a prison where it will not be necessary to chain prisoners to the floor of a damp dungeon and keep them in shackles before or after trail.  “Far from being an evidence of folly or extravagance, the erection of a strong stone jail of modern construction is an evidence of the progress and enlightenment of Dorchester, which other counties in the state would do well to imitate.”

The Sun’s article about the “narrow-minded and unprogressive view of the Denton Union” was heartily appreciated in Dorchester County.  This new lockup had replaced “a building that had outlived its usefulness, an institution that was not only a stigma upon” the good name of Cambridge, but also undermined the health of prisoners.

This building was demolished in 1994 after a long battle by preservationist to save it.

Postcard of the Dorchester County Jail, about 1910.

Postcard of the Dorchester County Jail, about 1910. Source: private collection

A modern photograph from the rear of the Dorchester County Jail (facing Choptank River).  Source:  Maryland Historic Sites Inventory, Maryland Historical Trust, 1992.

A modern photograph from the rear of the Dorchester County Jail (facing Choptank River). Source: Maryland Historic Sites Inventory, Maryland Historical Trust, 1992.

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One Response to Dorchester County’s Fine Jail Opened to Prisoners in 1883

  1. Larry Wayne Dodd says:

    This building should have never been tour down. I am opposed to government entities tearing down structures such as this building, old schools and old polices stations such as the MSP Barracks in Salisbury and Easton. These buildings belong to the tax payers and it makes absolutely no sense to tear them down, especially to tear them down and rebuild. Bennett High School and the 2 MSP barracks were torn down and rebuilt. It would have made better sense to buy another piece of land and sell the old buildings which have value. Wasting tax dollars seems to be what some government officials do best.

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