Montrose, CO — The city has been awarded funds to take the first step toward preserving the original Montrose County Jail. The city's vision for the jail, a brief home to the infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy, is to preserve the interior of the building and restore the exterior to its original condition. The city hopes to reopen the building to the public for tours.
In October the city applied for $34,862 in funds the History Colorado State Historical Fund to begin preparing construction documents to guide preservation and restoration efforts for the historic jail located behind Abel’s Hardware at 217 South First Street. The city was notified on November 30 that funds were awarded for the project.
The original Montrose County Jail is one of the community’s most historic structures. As the county's first permanent jail, its construction represented the transition of Montrose into a law-abiding community. The construction of the jail is similar to other jails built during the late 19th century. It was utilized until around 1936 when a new county jail opened adjacent to the historic Montrose County Courthouse.
The City of Montrose purchased the building in 2016, which had received minimal maintenance over the years. The city’s vision is to return the structure to public use as a heritage site.
“Preserving our history is an important goal of the City, and I am proud that we are able to restore our City’s first jail, and one of the oldest structures in Montrose, to it’s former glory. Even if that ‘glory’ is more than a little infamous," Montrose Mayor Roy Anderson said. "We are lucky to be able to have a large part of the initial restoration design project cost covered by a grant from History Colorado State Historical Fund. The jail will ultimately be an historical destination that will enhance the experience of visitors and residents alike.”
The city will be contracting with the Form+Works Design Group of Denver to evaluate the structure and to produce construction-ready, biddable documents for its exterior restoration and interior preservation. Construction documents are expected to be complete by December 2019.
Depending on the extent of needed improvements and associated costs, restoration efforts may be developed in stages. Roof replacement and repairs, removal of the non-original stucco finish on the building’s exterior walls, and window replacement or repairs are just some of the areas that will need to be evaluated. The city will pursue additional grants for improvements, matched with local funding.
The Montrose County Board of Commissioners first accepted bids for the jail on September 8, 1883. A bid by Charles Zaun was accepted for $4,100. The jail’s architectural style, a small stone structure with narrow windows, is consistent with county jails built in Colorado during the same time period.
From the time of its construction, the jail was inadequate and insecure. It was condemned by a grand jury twice for being “shamefully insecure and a disgrace to any community.” It was also considered “a cruel place for confinement.” Prior to improvements in 1929, prisoners easily escaped the jail.
Newspaper articles from the period suggest the infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy spent a night in the jail for allegedly stealing his own horse.
The building was used for storage from 1946 until 2016 when the city purchased it.
In August the Montrose County Board of County Commissioners designated the jail as a local historic landmark.
"This grant will continue the city's efforts to preserve and restore Montrose's iconic structures that contributed to the development of our community. We look forward to returning the jail to public use as a heritage tourism site and educational asset," said Grant Coordinator Kendall Cramer.