Restoring Lambertville’s Old Jail

Steps are underway to restore Lambertville’s old stone jail in picturesque Mary E. Sheridan Park, between the gazebo and The Kalmia Club. The Lambertville Historical Society is working with the City of Lambertville on the restoration, and we seek help and ideas from the community to best preserve and utilize the building. If you are interested in assisting our efforts or want to share memories of the jail or the fire department on the second floor, visit this page.

This past spring, members of the Lambertville Historical Society and the Masonic Lodge of Lambertville met with Mayor Dave Del Vecchio and architect Michael Burns to discuss the possibility of restoring the jail, which the City owns. Since the jail was closed in the late 1960’s, the building has been used by Public Works for storage, closed to the public. Significant damage to the roof required tarp covering that has been in place for several years. The interior has suffered.

Mayor Del Vecchio and the City agreed to replace the slate roof and repair or replace the soffit; they added the project to historic renovations of City Hall and the Justice Center. The roof replacement will begin shortly and is expected to conclude in October. Subsequently, the historical society will clean out the contents that are not historic and are easily discarded. We aim to create a plan for the jail’s ongoing restoration and future.

Inspections of the interior demonstrated the uniqueness of the structure and the challenges of restoration. In a metal-walled cell hangs a board with two headers: Do Not Release and Release. The calendar reads May 1971. To access the second floor, you must mount the exterior stairs; there is no internal staircase. The floor is compromised. Upstairs there are two large tanks, one of which may have fed air to the siren that was painfully familiar to many residents for years. On a desk sits a dust-covered device evidently used for transmitting emergency messages.

Old jails hold a certain appeal to residents and tourists. Ours is centrally located in a public park, making it a prime candidate for preservation. Moreover, there are few old jails in the area still standing and accessible. In the 1870’s, Lambertville’s jail housed itinerant workers—so many that residents complained in The Beacon. Much more research is required to appreciate the jail’s and the fire department’s places in our local history. We invite you to contribute to the building’s restoration and use. If you think it worthwhile, visit this page.

Main floor, used for storage

 

Metal cell

 

Cell management: Do Not Release / Release

Second floor, fire department

Emergency message device

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6 Responses to Restoring Lambertville’s Old Jail

  1. Nancy Nalence says:

    I’m looking to come back to Lambertville to do research for a story I’m writing about growing up there and what the town was like then (1950s). Can I make an appointment someone at the Historical Society and a tour of the jail?

  2. Rich Freedman says:

    It looks to me like the “emergency message device” in the picture is a 70’s era fire department ticker-tape machine. I’m sure that it’s a different make / model, but see a picture of a similar one here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/triborough/8421030397

    My understanding is that it was part of the city’s pull-box system (remember fire alarm pulls on telephone pulls?). When an alarm was pulled, it was recorded on this tape, which in turn may have triggered the siren, etc.

    If that’s what it is, there’s more detail about how it may have worked here:
    https://www.firerescuemagazine.com/articles/print/volume-8/issue-4/firefighting-operations/what-exactly-is-a-box-alarm-nozzlehead.html

    Can someone from the fire department confirm this and weigh in with more details?

    • Frank Palecek says:

      The machine referenced was manufactured by the Gamewell Company. These worked along with numbered call boxes placed in various locations around a town or city and would register the number of the call box sending the request. This was a very simple system and worked well for years. Would be nice to see if an original Lambertville callbox could be found too.

  3. David Wintermute says:

    In the spring of 1966 a young local teen resident was arrested and later found hung in this jail. At the time it was deemed a suicide, but there was suspicion of foul play which was never proven. Not long after this incident the jail was closed for good. This building holds a lot of bad memories to long time local residents who still live in the area. To restore this building as a tourist attraction is in bad taste. Since than the building has been use for storage as well for a time house the local emergency alert system used by the fire department and in the early days civil defense. I would recommend that the Historical Society reconsider its restoration plans. I also recommend the Historical Society to do its own research into this.
    If Lambertville wants to portray itself to be a community of understanding rethinking this project is a good start.

  4. Pam says:

    Knowing lambertville is an historical town with a ton of history, why continue to tear down and change things.
    It’s bad enough that the streets have been made smaller, and most of the old local mom and pop shops have been put out of business ( like Pete’s and the 5 and dime, the deli next to Pete’s, just to name a few, only to become an antique road show.
    The small town, full of kids on the corner, pizza shops filled with locals, and games at the ball fields have been destroyed all for the mighty dollar. Who remembers going to the ice cream parlor on 179, or the cottage hill deli and ice cream shop. The corn fields gone, all for what? The tourists. Lambertville folks pay a ton of taxes to live in such a small town. And worst, parking is atrocious. Maybe instead of a welcome center for the tour-ons, you can leave history be. Start thinking about the locals again. The town is unrecognizable to the folks who come back to visit their home town. Just a shame!

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