1859 jail - Independence jail - Independence Missouri - Frank James - history - frontier justice

Brush With Fame In The 1859 Jail

Some tourist attractions are easy to spot. They may have bright colors, attention grabbing signage or even one of those costumed characters waving you down. Then there are those places that blend so well into their surroundings that you may never know they exist. This is the case of the 1859 Jail & Marshal’s Home, which is located at 217 N. Main St. in downtown Independence, Missouri.

We want to thank the 1859 Jail for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.

1859 jail - Independence jail - Independence Missouri - Frank James - history - frontier justice

Just Another Victorian Home?

The entrance is set back from the sidewalk in a small grotto-like area. After paying the $6.00 admission, you are free to partake in a self-guided tour. The front of the building contains a parlor and office, which are decorated in period style of the late 1800’s. It looked a lot like many Victorian era places we have visited, so no big surprises here. We made our way up the steep staircase to the second floor living quarters. As we climbed, I was reminded of hearing about the near-miss this site had in 1958. Evidently a used building materials dealer had almost gotten permission to tear the building down and haul off the raw materials. At that time the building had stood abandoned. Fortunately, a group of citizens banded together to save it from that fate.

1859 jail - Independence jail - Independence Missouri - Frank James - history - frontier justice

Upstairs we found more of what we expected, as we studied the bedrooms of the Marshal and his family. The small rooms are very consistent with buildings of the period, and staff has done a good job at picking appropriate period furnishings. So far we were finding it to be kind of run-of-the-mill, as far as museums go. Then we turned our attention to the other side of the hall, and things got a little creepy.

1859 jail - Independence jail - Independence Missouri - Frank James - history - frontier justice

1859 Jail Was Truly A Jail

Right across the hall from what appeared to be a child’s bedroom, was an area that held four jail cells. Now I grew up with a father who was a chaplain at the local jail, so cells are not unfamiliar to me. What was a little disturbing, was the idea that the prisoners would have been housed alongside the marshal’s family. Now we know these were different times, but are we the only ones that would have wanted to avoid this living arrangement? The holding area is fashioned from limestone block walls with wooden floors. Heavy iron grate doors can be covered with solid iron outer doors. We are guessing this would have been done to muffle the noise from unhappy guests.

1859 jail - Independence jail - Independence Missouri - Frank James - history - frontier justice

Famous or Infamous?

Now some may say that it probably was just the holding area for local drunks or miscreants, but we were surprised to hear a couple of names of past prisoners who were held in the 1859 Jail. William Quantrill, the guerrilla leader, spent time here, and was met by an unwelcoming crowd upon his release. During the Civil War, Order Number 11 was issued immediately after the Lawrence Raid. This order required those living in rural areas of four counties around Kansas City to be removed from their residences. many women and children were displaced and detained in the 1859 Jail. Probably the most famous name to be associated with the jail is that of Frank James. For six months, the brother of Jesse James was incarcerated in the jail. Being somewhat of a local celebrity, he often strolled outside of his cell. Here visitors can walk the halls where Frank did, and see the luxury of that period that he enjoyed during his stay.

1859 jail - Independence jail - Independence Missouri - Frank James - history - frontier justice

Additional exhibits are found at the rear of the building. These hold many artifacts from the years the building served as a jail. We spent a good amount of time in this area, since it held most of the informational placards and displays. Our total visit lasted about an hour, and gave us a better background of life around the square in the mid to late 1800’s. After our visit to the 1859 jail, we took a ride on the Pioneer Trails Adventure wagon ride. With what we learned at the jail, we had a better foundation to appreciate the stories we heard on the trail ride. You can learn more about Pioneer Trails Adventure here. Our day exploring Independence, Missouri was going well, and we still had so much more to see. When you visit you will certainly want to add the 1859 Jail & Marshal’s Home to your itinerary. You may even see one of the ghosts that supposedly occupy the grounds. What do you think about that?

the authors signatures.

5 thoughts on “Brush With Fame In The 1859 Jail”

  1. I volunteer at the 1859 jail and enjoy meeting our vistors. When asked about the spirits, I ha e a couple of stories of my encounters. As for the family’s living so close, the viewing door in the upstairs was put so you could see the upper cells. The family’s were protect by about 2 foot thick stone a d brick. When orginal built the home and jail were two separate buildings.
    If you come back buy the book “Lockdown “. It will give the total history of the jail a d more.

  2. My wife and I toured the 1859 home and jail a few years ago. The dungeon-esque cell area was intriguing, and since I was always the type to color outside the lines, and despite an admonishment from the missus, I disconnected the chain across Frank James’ cell for an inside ‘feel’. It felt like I had actually stepped back in James Gang lore for a few moments. I didn’t touch anything, however, and soon exited his cell. Now, we’ve been to the James Farm, the home in St. Joseph (pre and post relocation), and Jesse’s grave at Mt Olivet Cemetery in Kearney. The James-Younger gang once robbed an east-bound Kansas Pacific train from Colorado just west of Muncie, KS in 1874, which is a half mile from where I live.

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