ALLEGAN, MI -- I've got to believe that not many of us have been in jail. In fact, most of us have probably never seen the inside of a real jail except on TV shows. Built in 1906, the old Allegan County jail still stands but has now been turned in to a museum. There are thousands of artifacts and vintage pieces from all over the county from the past 200 years or longer. It doesn't matter if you're not from the area, anyone who enjoys history or the past will appreciate this one-of-a-kind museum.
It goes without saying that the jail side and all the old cells are a popular attraction. Each sheriff through the years would live in the front part of the house with his family, while those in jail were confined to the rear of the house in the cells. You can clearly get a feel for the comfortable home look, to the colder-callus feel of an institution as you move from house to jail. The cells were small with no toilet facilities in the cell, but it was adequate for the time with all the petty theft, larceny, and vagrancy that was occurring in the early to mid 1900s.
The jail closed in 1963 and the Allegan County Historical Society eventually acquired the property and turned it into a museum. I must say...I've been to plenty of West Michigan town, city, and village museums, but this one is certainly unique...probably due to its jail connection. "The majority of society has never been in jail, and I think it's just that allure of the villains in your community, the villains in your country, and getting to go in and actually seeing a jail for the first time" says museum volunteer Scott Kuykendall.
The department of motor vehicle license bureau operated here until 1963. The first piano brought to Allegan County in 1840 is on display, plus you'll find one of the old, original courtrooms and the actual judge's bench from the late 1800s. There's also hand written court dockets and clerk books with court cases and entries made from 1890 that still are very visible and legible some 125 years later.
It's also interesting to visit the basement where an old mock post office exists along with hundreds of pantry items from companies all over West Michigan...many of which are long gone as a business. My tour guides the day I visited were Nancy Fleming, dressed in era appropriate clothes and playing the part of how the women would have looked decades ago. Also, retired navy man Scott Kuykendall, who was as excited and as enthusiastic as I am shooting this kind of a historical West Michigan Story.
If you'd like more information on the Allegan County Jail and Museum click here for the Allegan County Historical Society website. You can click here for their Facebook page. You can click here for more Allegan County history.