skip to main navigation
skip to main content

Dover Library Home

Dover Public Library Logo


Strafford County Jail/The Revolving Jail

  StraffordCounty Jaile.jpg

Across the River from Washington Square, on top of a hill in the trees, one can see a sturdy brick structure. Presently the home of the McCoole family, this building was built in 1888 as a jailer’s house, Adjacent to it was a most unusual revolving jail which contained 14 cells. The jail building itself could be turned by means of a handcrank, so that no two cells lined up with the single door at any one time. The intention, presumably quite successful, was to prevent the prisoners from engaging in any conspiracy for escape, The jail was torn down in 1918 in order to obtain scrap for the war effort.
    From the 1982 Heritage Walking Tour Booklet

The new “Revolving Jail” was built on the south side of the Cocheco River. The jail was taken down in 1918, but the jailer’s house still stands on the hill overlooking River Street. The jail had a capacity of 56 prisoners.
  From Dover, N.H.; People, businesses, and organizations 1850-1950 by Robert Marston, 2004.

The county built a new jail on the land beyond Washington Street, called our City Farm, and it loomed up well as one faced it from Central Square. It was of modern style when built, and was supposed to confine prisoners safely. It was called “The Revolving Jail” as it could be mechanically turned to confine the prisoners, and to feed the inmates. One murderer, Kelley, was confined here for trial, for killing a Mr. Stickney, when he robbed the bank in Somersworth, but no one was executed there. This jail, considered so safe, was the scene of an event, when McArthur, called “Horsethief,”  made a successful escape, but to this day, no one has ever solved the mystery, many thinking, that because he was a “Lodge” man, no great attempt was made to get to the truth of the matter. While he was confined there he began to complain of leg troubles, and was place in the women’s quarter where it was pleasanter for a sick person. During this time, his meals were carried to him by Jailer Frank Libbey. One day Libbey received a call and had to go out of town, and his youngest daughter was to take McArthur’s meals to him. When she carried his meal in, the room was vacant, presumably he had left by the window. When he could not be found, many people claimed he must have had outside help, for they said in his bandaged leg were really bad, he could not have safely jumped from the window, nor could he walked by himself very far. The question was never solved.

   From City of Dover, New Hampshire: Centennial Celebration 1855-1955 compiled by the Historical Program committee for the Dover Centennial, 1955.


Strafford County Jail 2.jpg


This historical essay is provided free to all readers as an educational service. It may not be reproduced on any website, list, bulletin board, or in print without the permission of the Dover Public Library. Links to the Dover Public Library homepage or a specific article's URL are permissible.