Cheyenne Wells Old Jail Museum
Cheyenne Wells, Colorado
Even law-abiding visitors to Cheyenne County love to spend a little time in “jail” where the Cheyenne Wells Old Jail Museum served as the county’s lock-up for nearly 75 years.
Designed by noted Denver Architect Robert S. Roeschlaub, the Cheyenne County Jail housed both the local ne’er-do-wells and the sheriff’s family with just one reported prisoner escape. Visit this notable entry on the National Register of Historical Places and, unlike our late 19th Century guests, you can walk right out the front door whenever you please.
One room wasn’t enough to hold the worst of Eastern Colorado’s bad men. After using a one-room jail for several years, Cheyenne County retained noted Denver architect Robert S. Roeschlaub in 1892 to design a new facility. Roeschlaub had been in Colorado for more than 20 years and was known for such projects as the Central City Opera House, Denver’s East High School, and the Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver.
Roeschlaub’s design for the new Cheyenne County Jail was also Romanesque, but on a smaller scale. A stout, brick structure, the jail opened for business in 1894. It comprised several rooms to serve as living quarters for the Sheriff and his family and also contained a single, large room that housed two barred cells. The building included a tower with a window overlooking the cells for the Sheriff’s use. There were few trees in the area at the time, and we’ve heard you could see for many miles in any direction from the jail’s tower.
In 1937, a women’s holding facility was added. Previously, law-breaking women were transported to the jail in Burlington. Eventually, the old Cheyenne County Jail was retired in favor of a new facility closer to the Courthouse.
Reinventing the retired building was a priority for the County Commissioners. In 1962, Commissioners Claude Merrit, Joseph Carrigan, and C.A. Harms approached the Cheyenne Wells Business and Professional Women’s Club with a great offer: Organize a group to operate it, and the jail would be given for use as a museum. The Eastern Colorado Historical Society was born. Memberships were sold and members held rummage sales to raise funds for making needed repairs to the old building. By the following year, the museum was in operation.
In 1972, the original museum volunteers dissolved the corporation. But in 1976, our nation’s Bicentennial celebration brought new life, and interested parties, to the museum. New volunteers took over the name of the defunct historical society, along with operation of the museum, and a healthy number of Historical Society and community volunteers now serve as tour guides and also maintain the building and exhibits.
The National Register of Historic Places recognized the old jail on June 16, 1988, for two compelling reasons: The building was the only remaining jailhouse of two designed by Roeschlaub, and it also represented the development of the “urban frontier” on the plains of Colorado.
The pioneer spirit of Cheyenne County is alive and on display at the Cheyenne Wells Old Jail Museum. Early residents of our county were cowboys, railroaders, and homesteaders whose legacy created a local economy based on agriculture and petroleum development. Their spirit and values are reflected in the vintage clothing, old photographs, and business, farming, and ranching memorabilia on display.
JOIN FOR JUST $16 A YEAR