History of the Old Jail
By
Charles E Fenwick
revised with information by
Linda Davis Reno
 
The people of St. Mary's County, Maryland seem to have had little need of jails until the middle of the present century. The laws on the books of early Maryland were extremely stringent, but there is no record of their being rigidly enforced.

In 1856 an Act was passed for the building in Leonardtown of a suitable county jail and a levy of $1,500 was authorized. This sum of money evidently proved insufficient for in 1858 another Act was passed authorizing $3,000 for the same purpose. The original building of ca 1858 was torn down and another built in the current location in 1876.

This jail, now the St. Mary's County Historical Society Headquarters, was built on the Court House lawn of stout granite blocks and still stands as solidly as when erected. It was one story high and contained two cells and a hallway - for soon after its erection, it was found that the jailer needed quarters in the same building. There stood in the south park in Leonardtown, a small brick building said to be used by the county, but at the time used by a harness repairman. The county took the building down and used the bricks to build a second story on the original granite jail.

Thus, the "Old Jail" became the building familiar to us today. The first floor became the quarters of the jailer and his family. The south room was a living room, dining room and kitchen, while the north room was a bedroom. On the second floor were three cells. The north one was a large cell used for black men, the southeast cell was used for white men and the small cell on the southwest was for women. The cell doors were of massive wood with a small opening through which to pass food. It is said that the granite to build the jail came here as ballast in sailing vessels. The boats would go to Baltimore with a load of peaches, and at the time of year there was no load to return; so they would load granite as ballast. The building was built to have stucco, as evidenced by the exposed wood lentils over windows and doors.

In 1941 the Navy started the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. The population of St. Mary's County increased from 15,000 in 1940 to 30,000 in 1950. With this increase in population, crime became more prevalent and Leonardtown needed a new jail. The new jail was built behind the Court House.

The old jail then became a county office building and was the home of the Welfare Department. When they outgrew the old building, the county leased it to the St. Mary's County Historical Society. The Historical Society have refurbished the building and opened it to the public. *

In front of the old jail is mounted a cannon which was brought to Maryland on the Ark. It defended St. Mary's City for years and later was a boundary [marker] of St. Inigoes Manor. It was donated to the St. Mary's County Historical Society by the Society of Jesus and now sits as a silent reminder of Maryland's earliest history.

Old Jail Cannon
Last Update {PAH} 13 Feb 2014