Old Gaol – Old Nantucket Jail // 1805

Nantucket built its first jail in 1696 on Vestal Street, which was at the time, far from a lot of the houses and businesses on the island. In 1805, taxpayers decided to spend $2,090 (roughly the cost of building a whaleship at the time) to build a new, sturdier jail nearby the original structure. Opened in 1805 and dubbed the “New Gaol,” the wooden structure represents colonial-era architecture with exceptional reinforcements, as to keep the prisoners inside those small four walls. The Gaol was constructed using massive oak timbers with iron bolts running the length of the walls, iron rods across the windows and heavy wooden doors reinforced with iron. The small structure saw a new neighbor when in 1855, the House of Corrections was moved from the Quaise Asylum and situated next to the Old Gaol. The House of Corrections was used for debtors, habitual drunkards, mentally ill, and juvenile prisoners—also used as a workhouse where debtors could ply their trades to pay their bills. It was no longer needed by 1933 and dismantled in 1954. Like with the old House of Corrections, the old jail saw its last prisoner in 1933, and sat underutilized (but surviving) until it was acquired by the Nantucket Historical Association in the 1940s and restored in 2013.

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