Jail turned into museum, used in Andy Warhol movie

Jul 8, 2013

Cells at the Allegan County Jail Museum
Credit Nancy Camden

The old Allegan County jail was built in 1906. It’s now a museum that houses the Historical Society’s collection from several periods of life in Michigan. The museum also uniquely tells the story of life in a county jail.

There are four cell blocks on three floors that could hold thirty-six prisoners. The family home had its own entrance and consisted of four bedrooms and a bath upstairs. Downstairs was the parlor, dining room and kitchen. 

The sheriff's home at the Allegan County Jail Museum.
Credit Nancy Camden

The Sheriff’s wife was responsible to cook the meals for the prisoners, says Amanda Landstra, board member. The inmates would come down and get their meals through a pass-through window in the kitchen.

“Like most jails back in 1800’s, early 1900’s,” says Allegan County Historical Society board member Tom Fleming. “The types of prisoners they had were drunk and disorderly, malicious destruction, things like that. They weren’t really considered dangerous criminals.” 

The entrance to the jail is a stark contrast to the home, basic and cold looking. The steps are metal, unlike the wooden steps in the house section. Parts of three films were filmed in the old Allegan County Jail cell block, says Fleming, including the 1968 movie  Ciao! Manhattan made by artists affiliated with Andy Warhol.

“They had started the movie out in New York and one of the stars [Paul America] was a drug addict and he just disappeared off the set," says Tom Fleming. “Finally, they found out he was locked up in the Allegan County Jail, which was the building across the street. So, they decided to come here and do some scenes. At the time, I worked at the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office. It was my duty each day to walk him over here to this building, so they could do their filming and then, I’d walk him back.”

This Youtube shows some scenes from Ciao! Manhattan shot in the jail:

Visitors to the museum can walk into the solitary confinement cell. The door to the cell was padded to prevent prisoners from banging on it to gain attention. Remnants of the material are still stuck to the door. The one key that locked the cells is part of the museum’s extensive collection.