The question of what do you do with an old jail was before the Elkton Historic Architectural Review Committee (HARC) the other evening. While the panel grappled with that and whether they should change a town regulation that would allow a proposed senior apartment complex to be built on the parcel, some on the panel argued that no one is interested in saving buildings like that. So we thought we’d make a quick check around Maryland to see if other 21st century uses have been made of these structures.One acclaimed project that has received awards took place in Princess Anne, MD. There the “Grey Eagle” confined notorious types in the Somerset County from 1857 to 1987. Standing vacant for over a decade after it was replaced, the Town of Princess Anne considered demolishing the building in 1999 because of “its increasing decrepit state.” However, that community saw economic development value in adaptive reuse, so the political leadership decided to restore the structure with the help of the Maryland Historical Trust and other stakeholders. Today, this finely restored prison adds greatly value from a practical standpoint as it’s the headquarters for the Princess Anne Police Department. It also is a strong contributor to the historic district and, according to the town, “its’ a symbol of pride.”
A casual survey of other Maryland communities will find additional examples. In Easton, a town that is particularly proud of its past and works to protect its architectural resources, the 19th century lockup still stands appearing the way it has since the 19th century. It serves as Office for the States’ Attorney. In Denton, Leonardtown, and elsewhere, you will also find them serving as offices, county jails and museums. In a larger sphere beyond Maryland, they’ve been turned into restaurants and bed and breakfasts.
The developer appearing before the HARC committee recognized that there could be options beyond his initial proposal. More than once, he reminded the officials that he was appearing before the committee to present an idea, get their reaction to this first proposal, and see what other ideas might exist to leverage the value of the historic structure.