Listed on the National Historic Register, the Old Washington County Jail has been the home of the South County History Center (founded as the Pettaquamscutt Historical Society) since 1960. It has served as a museum, library and archive for more than fifty years.
Located in historic Kingston Village, there has been a jail at the present site since 1792, succeeding an earlier jail that was located across Kingstown Road. The first jail at the present location was a two-story, wooden structure with five cells upstairs for prisoners and four rooms downstairs where the jailer and his family lived. Conceding to the requests of the jailer, the town council added a wooden cellblock to the back of the building in the early 1800s.
The use of wood as the primary building material for the Jail led to a variety of problems, including pest infestation, freezing temperatures in winter, unhygienic living conditions and easy escape for prisoners.
Despite these problems, the wooden cellblock survived until 1858, at which time it was replaced with the existing two-story granite cellblock. The front part of the current building, which continued to serve as the residence for the jailer’s family, was added in 1861, replacing the 1792 wooden structure. The Washington County Jail operated until 1956 when the county jail system in Rhode Island dissolved.
Click through our gallery below to see how the jail has appeared over the years.