Renowned architect Robert Mills designed this jail in Lancaster, built in 1823. The first jail built in Lancaster County was erected around 1800 and sat behind the Lancaster County Courthouse.
When a larger and more modern jail was needed, Mills created a facility that would afford excellent air circulation by placing barred cells in the center of the building. Mills’ idea of imprisoning lawbreakers according to their crimes was also implemented in the jail; for example, debtors were housed on the first floor while the second floor was reserved for more dangerous criminals. Mills also declined to add a dungeon to the jail, which illustrated his forward thinking regarding incarceration; however, stocks, a scaffold, and whipping post were utilized here until 1830.
The building itself is a stuccoed Palladian-style structure with parapets and a gabled roof, Mills’ only structure to incorporate such medieval features. Brick vaults can be found inside. Handhewn stonework remains unaltered despite the fact that Union soldiers attempted to burn the building at the end of the Civil War. Sadly, the jail did burn on December 29, 1979, when an inmate set the building on fire. The event killed 11 prisoners. The building was no longer used following the tragedy, though it remains an historical reminder of the innovative thinking of Robert Mills.
The Lancaster County Jail is a National Historic Landmark and is also listed in the National Register:
The 1823 Lancaster County Jail is a significant example of Robert Mills architecture and reflects his innovative ideas on the proper construction of penal institutions. The jail is a stuccoed brick building of three stories with Palladian style stone quions and stringcourses. It features a gable roof, iron grates, first floor windows and doors within recessed arches, and gable parapets with coping and a raised center section. Although Mills never signed his buildings and often failed to sign his plans, a number of building characteristics and facts substantiate the 1823 jail is his design. Some characteristics of Mills’ work are the following: Mills advocated free circulation of air in jail construction, and this was achieved in the Lancaster County Jail by placing barred cages for prisoners in the middle of the room; the absence of a dungeon reflects a Mills innovation in penal reform; classifying prisoners according to their crime was a Mills recommendation, and this was achieved in the Lancaster County Jail by placing prison rooms for debtors on the first floor and other cells were on the second floor; Mills was a member of the Board of Public Works for the State of South Carolina from 1820-1830, and he was referred to in public documents of that period as the “State Engineer and Architect.”
Historic Pictures of Lancaster County Jail
Lancaster County Jail Info
Address: 208 West Gay Street, Lancaster, SC 29720
GPS Coordinates: 34.718325,-80.771975
Lancaster County Jail Map
Take Me There
SusanSmith Long says
Douglas Smith, My mother and I were allowed to go into the jail in May 2018. I took a few pics with my phone. I will post them on the South Carolina picture project Facebook page.
Robbie Knight says
Douglas Smith, I have photos prior to the last renovation.
Lancaster County Historical Commission
Hey Robbie, if you ever wanted to share them and have us potentially feature them on the page, we would love to take a look! My email address is email@example.com. Thank you!
Douglas Smith says
Why is there not any photos available of the inside of the jail? I have not found any. I have lived in Lancaster all my life and not once have I seen where anyone was permitted to view the inside or to photograph it. I hope I am wrong about this.