Baltimore County Jail
222, Courthouse Court, Towson, Baltimore County
The Baltimore County Jail, constructed in 1855, is a 2-story Italianate-style stone building that was used as a correctional facility until 2006. The building consists of a 5-bay-wide warden’s quarters with a central 3-story entry tower and a rear cell block that houses 3 levels of jail cells. Connected to the south side of the warden’s house is a 1-story garage of stone construction, built in 1940, to transfer prisoners to and from police and department of correction vehicles. The symmetrically designed structure measures 52’ wide and 62’ deep. A low pyramidal hipped roof covers the warden’s quarters and its 3-story entry tower. A low gable roof covers the rear cell block. The entire building is constructed of stone load-bearing exterior walls approximately 30” thick, laid in a coursed fieldstone pattern. The windows are divided-light double-hung units with stone lintels and sills. The 3-story entrance tower with its low hipped roof and chimney is at the center of the 5-bay 2-story east elevation and contains a wood double-door entry with an arched transom containing iron bars in a fanlight design. At the second story in the tower is a 1/1 window with a stone lintel and sill, and at the third story are 3 narrow 2/2 windows. The tower has a wooden cornice with a 16” overhang and a chimney that extends approximately 5’ above the roof. Flanking the tower are 2 bays of original 6/6 windows with stone lintels and sills approximately 4’-6” tall at the raised basement, 5’-6” at the first story, and 4’-6” at the second story. Some of the windows have wooden frame screens which are not original. The north elevation is composed of 2 sections: a 2-bay warden’s quarters and a connecting 3-bay cell block section which is set back 2 feet from the face of the warden’s quarters. The fenestration of the warden’s quarters matches the east elevation except for an original wooden door at the basement level at the northeast corner and a new door that has been cut into an original first-story window which is accessed from grade by a wooden stairway leading to a concrete slab platform supported by stone piers. The platform connects to a large stone chimney that was built at a later date. The cell block fenestration is 6/6 wood windows with stone lintels and sills. Every window in the cell block is fitted with steel bars. Both the warden’s quarters and the cell block have a simple wood box cornice with a 12” overhang. The west elevation, which is the rear exterior wall of the cell block, is a 3-story, 2-bay composition with the same windows as on the north elevation of the cell block. A walk-out basement wood door is located at the northwest corner. The south elevation is similar to the north elevation, composed of 2 sections: a 2-bay and a connecting 3-bay cell block section which is set back 2 feet from the face of the warden’s quarters. The fenestration of the cell block is identical to the north elevation. Connected to the warden’s quarters is a 25’ by 28’ 1-story garage which has a low slope gable roof with a built-up membrane. It is constructed of matching stone and has an overhead door with large steel windows with 6” x 9” divided lights of obscured glass on its south and west elevations. The fenestration of the warden’s quarters is similar to the north elevation at the first and second stories except for a door infilled in an original window opening at the second story which opens onto a steel fire stair that exits behind the garage. There is a walk-out basement door located at the northeast corner. The exterior of the jail is largely intact with its original stone walls, entry tower, doors, and roofs unaltered. Most of the original windows are intact except in two locations where new exit doors were cut into existing window openings. Two windows were removed on the south elevation when the garage was added in the 1940s. The rear cell block building, which was reconstructed in 1905 using the same basement walls to provide new cells and concrete floors, has remained unaltered. The interior of the warden’s quarters, which retains most of its historic fabric, is in deteriorating condition. Through the double doors of the main entry is an entrance hall with steps leading up to double doors with rectangular transom into the first floor central lobby in the warden’s quarters. The central lobby is a 2-story symmetrical space containing a grand curving staircase and is lit by a pyramidal skylight. The lobby is surrounded by 4 rooms located at the corners of the building. The floor is constructed of timber framing and wood strip flooring which as been covered with vinyl tile. The original baseboards and door trim in the lobby remain but the doors into the rooms have been replaced. The original interior walls are wood framed with plaster, but most of the original wood trim work inside the rooms is gone. The original 10’ high plaster ceilings in the 4 rooms are covered by dropped ceilings. These conditions are the same for the trim, doors, and ceilings of the second-floor rooms above. The first-floor rooms in the northeast and southeast corners retain their brick fireplaces. The staircase retains its original treads and risers and its walnut newel post, railing, and balusters as well as its trim work on the stringer and balcony which runs along the perimeter of the second story. A door under the main stair leads to another stair to the basement which has the same railing and newel post detail. The main stair leads to a balcony on the second floor with a wood railing that looks over the first-floor lobby. Off the balcony are four rooms that match the dimensions of those below. In the tower section which is above the entry stair is a bathroom with a ceiling hatch to the third level of the tower. The basement of the Warden’s Quarters is roughly divided into the same arrangement as the first-floor rooms, one of which is a furnace room. Doors at the northeast and southeast corners lead directly outside. The interior of the cell block is in excellent condition. A door in the west wall of the lobby under the balcony leads to the first floor cell block which contains 10 cells approximately 5’-6” wide and 7’-6” deep with a corridor running along three sides. The cells are divided by 6” plastered masonry walls with sliding steel doors. The inside of the exterior walls throughout the cell block are plaster on stone and the floors are concrete. A steel stair on the north elevation runs down to the basement cell block and another runs up to the second floor cell block. The second-floor cell block, which is only accessed by the stair from the first floor cell block, is identical to the one below except that a corridor runs along all four sides and has 12 cells, 3 of which have been converted to storage closets. The basement cell block, which is only accessed by the stair from the first floor, is identical to the second floor cell block. An original wood door at the northwest corner leads directly outside and a door in the south wall leads to the 1-story garage which is constructed of brick and stone with a concrete floor. Given its use and age, the interior of the warden’s quarters is remarkably intact with its original staircase, interior partitions, and some of its trim work remaining unaltered and in place, although in poor overall condition. It still conveys its original architectural integrity and function as when it was built in 1855. The cell block also retains its architectural integrity with all the cells and stairs in place wince its renovation in 1905.
The Baltimore County Jail, built in 1855, is of local historical significance in the area of Politics and Government for its association with the establishment of Baltimore County as an independent jurisdiction. The jail, and the nearby Baltimore County Courthouse (listed on the National Register), which was built at the same time and designed by the same architect, survive to reflect the creation of Baltimore County in 1851. The Baltimore County Jail derives architectural significance as a rare and largely intact example of prison architecture from the pre-Civil War period in Maryland. The building still shows the layout and operation of a county jail, retaining its original rooms for administration and warden’s quarters, and three levels of cells. Its construction of massive load-bearing stone walls and timber framing characterize prison architecture of the era. It is also an outstanding example of governmental architecture designed in the Italianate style in the region. Its massing, proportion, fenestration, detailing, and tower are all important architectural features that exemplify this style which was popular before and after the Civil War. The design of the building is a restrained handling of the Italianate without the usual ornate detailing, giving the jail an imposing fortress-like presence. The interior features a pyramidal skylight in the central 2-story hall, and a curving stair and balcony with all of its detailing intact. The building exhibits the local craftsmanship of fieldstone masonry of the period. The jail is the work of the well-known mid-19th-century Baltimore architectural firm Dixon & Dixon, whose other projects include the Baltimore County Courthouse, Lutherville Seminary, St. Agnes Church in Baltimore County, and the Baltimore City Jail.