Historic Preservation: Lafayette’s first jail still standing

A nondescript garage on the alley of 500 E. Cleveland St. is Lafayette’s first jail and town hall. The building, built about 1894, is 15-feet wide on the gable ends and is constructed of soft bricks that are now covered with stucco. It has a corrugated roof placed on top of cedar shingles. There are anti-splay bolts showing on the exterior near the eaves on the north and south side. Anti-splay bolts are common in brick buildings that are/were showing signs of instability.

The front door and a side window of the two-room jail faced west onto Michigan Ave., now an overhead garage door. The interior has a ceiling and wainscotting on the wall, items not normally installed in garages.

Historic maps dating between 1900 and 1937 show the same footprint for the alley structure at 500 E. Cleveland Street. The first map, made in 1900 by the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company, shows a 15-feet wide brick structure and has the label “calaboose,” meaning town jail. Subsequent written accounts, including town board minutes, state that the old jail was located on the alley of 500 E. Cleveland Street. In 1906, John J. Thomas bought the property from the town of Lafayette and in 1908 built the house that occupies the rest of the lot.

The brick calaboose, or jail, shown in the 1900 Sanborn Fire Insurance map.

Mary Miller’s grandson, Frank Miller (1893-1973), has extensive narratives about the local bricks made at the Dutch Colony east of Lafayette prior to 1900. It was not a factory per se, but rather a small scale, craft operation that produced soft bricks using wood molds. Horses powering a “whim” pressed the clay into the molds. The soft bricks were fired in coal-fired kilns, but were not vitrified. Because of this, Frank Miller states that the inferior-quality bricks absorbed water and were therefore vulnerable to the freeze-thaw cycle. That meant that buildings constructed using the soft bricks needed a coating of stucco so that the bricks wouldn’t melt away in the weather. This stucco mitigation method is found on the Metcalf house, and appears to be the case at the former jail structure at 500 E. Cleveland.

(Frank Miller’s comments would indicate that the Pascoe home at 103 E. Simpson, now an office building, wasn’t built using the soft bricks fired locally. It’s pretty clear the Pascoe house has vitrified bricks that were machine made using a mechanized extrusion process, probably made at the Boulder Brick Co.)

The few remaining structures using local brick include the Angevine house, the Metcalf house at 207 E. Simpson, and the old jail building at 500 E. Cleveland.

Lafayette Colorado’s calaboose (PDF)