Built in 1894, the Cheyenne County Jail represented the young county’s dedication to law and order and helped instill a sense of civic pride. It is the only surviving jail designed by the important early Colorado architect Robert S. Roeschlaub. After a new jail opened in 1961, the Roeschlaub-designed building became a museum dedicated to Cheyenne County history.
In 1889 Cheyenne County was created and quickly built a small jail next to the temporary courthouse in Cheyenne Wells. The one-room jail soon proved inadequate to house inmates, however, and in 1891 a grand jury recommended building a new jail. By the fall of 1893, Cheyenne County was paying neighboring Lincoln County to house its inmates.
In 1893 the county commissioners called for a new jail. The measure was approved by voters that fall. Soon the county hired noted Denver architect Robert Roeschlaub to design the jail. Roeschlaub had recently designed the Lincoln County Jail, which probably helped convince the Cheyenne County commissioners to choose him.
Built on land bought from Louis N. McLane, the jail was completed in September 1894. The building had a Romanesque, fortresslike design, with heavy walls, narrow windows, an octagonal tower, and an arched entryway. Inside, the building had three rooms for the sheriff’s living quarters on the south side and two cells with four beds for inmates on the north side. The tower allowed the sheriff to overlook the jail cells; before the area had any trees, it also afforded a view of the plains for miles around.
The building served as the county jail for sixty-seven years with only minimal changes. In 1899 a bathroom was added to the sheriff’s living quarters, and in 1905 the original brick exterior was covered with stucco. In 1937 a women’s cellblock was added to the north side of the building. (The county’s female inmates had previously been sent to Kit Carson County for holding.)
In 1961 Cheyenne County built a new jail. Over the next two years, the county commissioners worked with the Business and Professional Women of Cheyenne Wells to develop a plan for the former jail building. The women’s group organized the Eastern Colorado Historical Society and leased the jail building for use as a museum, which opened in 1963.
The historical society lost steam after a decade and suspended its operations in 1972, but four years later the bicentennial celebration excited new interest in the county’s history as well as in the museum. A new group took over the historical society’s and the museum’s operation. The Cheyenne Wells Old Jail Museum is open to the public by appointment between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with displays of photographs, clothing, and other memorabilia illustrating the county’s history. In 1988 the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.