1870 Berrien County Jail

1870 Berrien County Jail (HM1849)

Location: Oronoko Charter Township, MI 49103 Berrien County
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Country: United States of America
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N 41° 56.869', W 86° 20.473'

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A Unique Jail

Gilbert B. Avery, architect of the 1839 Courthouse next door, also designed the 1870 Berrien County Jail and Sheriff's Residence. The brick jail appeared from the outside as a conventional square structure with a ventilator atop a glass skylight.

Inside, Avery arranged the cells in a circular pattern. Twenty-four triangular cells - sixteen on the first floor and eight on the second - surrounded a central core, where a pump and bathtub let prisoners bathe. The jailer could let inmates exercise in the outer walkway while still confining them within the exterior walls.

Removal of the county seat to St. Joseph in 1894 left the jail vacant. It fell into disrepair, and in 1916 its owners demolished it.

The Great Escape

One Saturday in July 1883, eight prisoners made a bold escape from this jail. Removing the bathtub in the central core, they pumped water from the cistern below until they could climb inside and begin to dig. They tunneled under the north wall but the soft earth gave way, exposing the tunnel and forcing them to crawl up in broad daylight.

The sheriff, county clerk and several townspeople began a lively chase and soon recaptured most of them. Their tunnel became a short-lived tourist attraction as people came from all around the county to see the site. One Niles woman even carried off a sample of earth from the excavation as a souvenir.
HM NumberHM1849
Placed ByBurnett's Traders, No. 567 Questers
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Saturday, September 20th, 2014 at 9:55pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)16T E 554603 N 4644192
Decimal Degrees41.94781667, -86.34121667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 41° 56.869', W 86° 20.473'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds41° 56' 52.14" N, 86° 20' 28.38" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)269
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 300-308 N Kimmel St, Oronoko Charter Township MI 49103, US
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