If you've spent some time walking around downtown Pittsburgh, odds are good you've seen the old Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail. This historical building is one of the most stunning in the city and even includes its own Bridge of Sighs walkway that connected the two buildings.
Today the jail has been decommissioned and converted into a Common Pleas court, yet many artifacts from the era exist and are available on display in the Old Allegheny County Jail Museum.
But if you want to check this one out you'll have to plan accordingly- it is only open from 11:30am to 1pm on Mondays, February to October!
The Jail Museum in Downtown Pittsburgh is Unique
The old Allegheny County Jail is an interesting spot for a number of reasons. It was built in 1886, in use until 1995, and is a gorgeous building on the exterior!
While most of the museum has now been converted, one wing of the cells was preserved and now contains a small display of historical paraphernalia, books, and images thanks to a quick-thinking employee who rescued the items at the time of the jail's closure.
The museum iteslef is split into three main sections. The first is a display case for the artifacts and notable prisoners (and prison breaks- one involving the warden's wife and her prisoner lover). The second is highlighting the imprisonment of children in the jail's early days (which ceased in 1901 due to the passage of the Juvenile Court Act). The third section features the jail cells themselves- roughly six or so rather small confines that held multiple people at once!
While the tour of this historical spot can be self-guided, the highlight here are the docents from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation who really help bring the history of the space to life.
I was originally on my way out after my brief self-guided tour when I started to chat with a docent, and I ended up staying an extra half hour to talk more about the museum. Some of the most fascinating aspects was hearing all of the stories of former inmates who came back to see the jail, as its closure really wasn't that long ago at all, as well as the escape attempts over the years!
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While it is a bit of an odd recommendation to head down to a court to check out a prison, there is something oddly fascinating about taking a look back into the history of one of the city's oldest buildings- even if it happens to be a prison.
A Few Notes Before You Visit
As mentioned at the start of this article, the museum is only open for about an hour and a half every Monday from February to October (excluding public holidays), but there are a few more things to keep in mind.
First of all, the building is still an active Common Pleas court. This means you'll have to go through security when entering the building (think airport-style screenings), but just tell them you are there for the tour and they'll let you right in. Second, no cameras are allowed inside, and no photos are allowed in the museum either (which is why you only get to enjoy photos of the exterior here!).
Suffice it to say, this one is an unusual museum in downtown Pittsburgh!
The Old Allegheny County Jail is located at 440 Ross Avenue at the current Allegheny County Family Division and open Mondays from February to October from 11:30 to 1.