When Caledonia became the county seat of Houston County in 1874, $5,000 in bonds were allotted to aid in the construction of a jail on a square in the business center, with half of the bonds payable under the following conditions: that the jail cost less than $15,000, that the foundation be completed by November 1, 1874, and that the entire building be completed within one year. Plans for a jail were drawn up by Winona architectural firm C.G. Maybury and Son, with A.W. Gage serving as contractor. John Dorsh won the bid to provide 225 cords of dimension stone (8 x 12 x 18 inches long) and 125 cords of building stone, and the bid for iron work was awarded to a Mr. Bagley of Milwaukee.
Work began on April 21, 1875 and was supervised by E. P. Dorival, county board member, who was awarded $100 from the rest of the county board in appreciation of his services. The three-story Italianate jail was built of St. Lawrence limestone, quarried a mile east of Caledonia, and locally made bricks. It contained a sheriff’s residence, offices, and a men’s prison room, all heated by a furnace and supplied with cisterns, tanks, and pumps. Two tiers of ten interior cells were located in a two-story, 40 x 60-foot rear wing.
In 1883, construction began on a new courthouse that would be the county’s third—the earlier two were built in 1857 and 1867, respectively. The new courthouse was sited diagonally to the jail, on the southeast of the city’s central square and set within a park filled with fountains, trees, and ornamental lights. Also built by C.G. Maybury and Son, the three-story Romanesque Revival building is capped by a 75-foot pyramidal-roofed tower.
The jail served the county until October 2011, when the new Houston County Justice Center (2011, Klein McCarthy Architects) was built adjacent to the original jail in response to increased inmate population and technology and correctional regulations. The historic building, one of the oldest jails in the state, stands vacant as of 2016. The courthouse is still in use for county government offices.
Curtiss, Franklyn, ed. History of Houston County, Minnesota. Winona, MN: H.C. Cooper, Jr., and Company, 1919.
Frame, Robert M., “Houston County Courthouse and Jail,” Houston County, Minnesota. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1981. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Neill, Rev. Edward D. History of Houston County. Minneapolis: Minnesota Historical Company, 1882.