1896 Cell House
Old Montana Prison
Overcrowding reached a critical point by the spring of 1896. The cell capacity of 182 was exceeded by 150 prisoners who were confined in a single log building without cells. The log building was deemed “insecure, unsafe and liable to destruction by fire” by the State Board of Prison Commissioners. On April 27, 1896, the Board authorized the construction of a new cell house.
Utilizing inmate labor under the supervision of the Board’s superintendent of construction, James MacCalman, the 1896 cell house was constructed in less than one year. Inmate crews quarried the stone for the foundation and quarried and cut the granite for construction. They quarried and fired their own lime and dug the sand for the mortar. They manufactured and fired some 1,200,463 bricks. They laid the brick and stone and even cut the lumber used in the building.
The building had four tiers of thirty-two cells each in the men’s quarters, with a capacity of 256 prisoners. The youths’ quarters contained two tiers of eight cells each with a capacity of 32 prisoners. All cells were six feet wide, eight feet long, and seven feet four inches high.
The building was demolished after it received structural damage in an earthquake in 1959.
Erected by Old Montana Prison Museum.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Architecture • Law Enforcement. A significant historical year for this entry is 1896.
Location. 46° 23.543′ N, 112° 44.159′ W. Marker is in Deer Lodge, Montana, in Powell County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Main Street (Business U.S. 90) and Texas Avenue, on the right when traveling south. Marker is located within the Old Montana Prison grounds, just inside the east wall, near the southeast corner of the 1931 Administration Building, overlooking a wide concrete foundation and slab covering the site of the 1896 Cell House. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1106 Main Street, Deer Lodge MT 59722, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. 1870-1931 Federal Building (a few steps from this marker); 1931 Administration Building (within shouting distance of this marker); 1959 Riot (within shouting distance of this marker); The Old Montana Prison (within shouting distance of this marker); Execution of George Rock (within shouting distance of this marker); 1912 Cell House
More about this marker. Marker is a large, laser-printed metal plaque, mounted horizontally on a waist-high post.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. Old Montana Prison
Also see . . . The 1896 Cell Block. None of the cells had plumbing and inmates used the bucket system: one for fresh water, the other for human waste. Each door locked individually, which, when combined with the wood stoves which heated the building and the wooden roof, created a safety hazard in the case of a fire. The lighting in the cells was insufficient even for reading; the wiring installed at the start of the 20th century could barely power a 25 watt bulb. There was no ventilation. A state investigation in 1931 found this cellblock to be "a disgrace to civilization." It was stifling in the summer, when inmates on the top tiers would throw items through the windows to create a breeze, and freezing in the winter, when inmates on the bottom tiers would drape the bottom half of their (Submitted on December 24, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
Credits. This page was last revised on December 20, 2020. It was originally submitted on December 24, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 173 times since then and 37 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on December 24, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.