Montrose, CO — City Councilors voted unanimously Tuesday to place the historic Montrose County Jail on the city’s register of historic places.
The jail, located at 217 South First Street behind Abel’s Hardware, was erected in 1885 and served as Montrose’s first county jail.
According to City Planner William Reis, on May 25, 2021, the City of Montrose Historic Preservation Commission considered an application for historic property designation of the Montrose County Jail, according to Section 4-15 of the Montrose Municipal Code.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend the building for City Council approval as a historic property.
The building, although altered, is representative of county jails in nineteenth-century Colorado with its small size, stone construction, and narrow windows, according to Reis.
The city's vision for the jail, a brief home to the infamous outlaw Butch Cassidy, is to preserve and restore the interior of the building before reopening it for public tours.
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. It was used 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 following many years of minimal maintenance. The city’s vision is to return the structure to public use as a heritage site. The Montrose County Board of Commissioners designated the jail as a local historic landmark in August 2018.
In 2018 the city took the first step towards preserving the jail when $34,862 from the History Colorado’s State Historical Fund were awarded to the city to begin preparing construction documents to guide preservation and restoration efforts.
The Montrose County Board of Commissioners first accepted bids for construction of the jail on September 8, 1883. A bid by Charles Zaun was accepted for $4,100.
From the time of its construction, the jail was inadequate and insecure. It was condemned by a grand jury in1888 for being “shamefully insecure and a disgrace to any community.” Prior to improvements in 1929, prisoners easily escaped the jail.
Hugo Selig, a founding father of Montrose, said in1939 the jail was "ramshackle, flimsy, and eyesore unfit for the slightest comfort," and "a cruel place for confinement."
"Though contemporary opinions of the Montrose County Jail seemed to be overwhelmingly negative, today we feel that the structure is worth preserving," Reis said. "We hope that locals and visitors to Montrose can come and catch a glimpse of the Montrose prisoner experience of 1885 to 1936."
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.
The jail is now the seventh historic structure added to the city’s registry since its inception in 2019.
City of Montrose Register of Historic Places:
• City Hall: 433 South First Street, added on September 17, 2019
• Potato Growers Association building: 39 West Main Street, added on October 1, 2019
• The Missouri Building: 347 East Main Street, added on March 17, 2020
• The Block Building: 345 East Main Street, added on March 17, 2020
• The former BPOE Lodge Building: 107 South Cascade Avenue, added on November 17, 2020
• Montrose Fire Department No. 1 station: 24 South Uncompahgre Avenue, added on June 1, 2021
• Historic Montrose County Jail: 271 South First Street, added on July 6, 2021
More information about the city's historic preservation efforts can be found here.