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‘Tiny Jails’: Historic Kansas lockups may be endangered
This cage at the Barton County Historical Society Village and Museum is believed to have served as a jail in Claflin.

The Kansas Preservation Alliance’s annual list of the state’s Most Endangered Buildings includes six specific locations and a statewide category called “Tiny Jails.”

Several of these lockups can be found in the Golden Belt. Most were built in the 1880s through 1920s and were used merely as “holding tanks” in later years of operation, according to the KPA website. By the 1960s, more were retired and then forgotten about.

The “bear cage” jail cell that is alleged to have belonged to the City of Claflin is now located at the Barton County Historical Society Village and Museum. It provides a fun photo op for kids who visit the museum.

E.T. Barnum Iron Works, a popular jail cell manufacturer, is credited with the cage that sits at a city park in Belpre. That company also built the Luray jail cell, which was sold and moved a few times. At last report, it is owned by Kip and Mary Thorson, owners of the renovated 1930s Shady Grove Cabin in Downs.

There’s a 1901 limestone structure in Lucas and a 1908 concrete building that served as the Hudson City Jail.

The City of Bison reportedly uses its old jail, built in 1913, for storage. According to the KPA’s partner website, Abandoned Kansas, the square, cement, two-cell jail was complete with iron doors and a concrete floor and cost $379 when it was built by John Butler.

Bunker Hill’s jail was built in 1871 and is described as “one of the best-preserved in the state.”

These tiny cages and buildings are on the KPA’s 2022 Most Endangered Buildings list along with Landmark Water Tower, Manhattan; Marion County Poor Farm, Marion; Lincoln High School, Lincoln; St. Johns Hospital, Salina; Docking State Office Building, Topeka; and the Securities Benefit Association Hospital/Menninger Tower Building, Topeka.

The Docking State Office Building is scheduled to be demolished in 2023.

The Kansas Preservation Alliance made its Most Endangers List each year from 1993 through 2014. This is the first new list in eight years. It was started “to raise awareness of historically and architecturally significant properties facing threats such as demolition, deterioration and insensitive development.” Now, with sponsorship from the Abandoned Atlas Foundation, all of the lists have been archived and can be found on the website.