Sheriff Dept. History at the Old Jail Museum in St. Mary’s County

Step. back in time to the beginning of the sheriff department in America back in the 1600s. The Old Jail Museum would become a stop on the Underground Railroad, and later tell the story of St. Mary’s County, Maryland through the eyes of law enforcement throughout four centuries (and counting).

In our effort to highlight all of the educational sites and museums in Maryland, we spoke with Karen Stone, Museum Division Manager at the Old Jail Museum, to share what makes this museum special, why you should visit, and what you need to know before you go.

Old Jail Museum
credit St. Marys County Museum Division

Where is the Old Jail Museum located?

Location: Old Jail Museum, 41625 Courthouse Drive, Leonardtown MD 20650

What topics does the Old Jail Museum cover?

The Old Jail Museum covers the sheriff’s department and jail history, the Underground Railroad, lynching and general St. Mary’s county history.

What is your Old Jail Museum’s claim to fame?

The Old Jail was part of the Underground Railroad. It housed the only lynching victim in St. Mary’s County, and is run by the oldest sheriff’s department in the USA.

What is your favorite exhibit or artifact in the museum?

The building itself is the greatest artifact! It still shows the jail keeper’s quarters on the first floor and the three cells on the second floor – complete with bars on the windows and doors.

What kinds of special exhibits and events do you host throughout the year?

The Old Jail Museum is open during special events run by the Town of Leonardtown, but in the future will have special events of its own.

Are there guided tours available?

Guided tours are available whenever the museum is open. Tours cover the building and its history as well as the stories of the many objects currently on display, including the witches rock.

Tours are available in English.

How much time should someone plan to spend at the museum?

We recommend guests spend about an hour at the museum.

What should someone bring with them and what items are not allowed in the museum?

Pets are not allowed; there is no public water fountain so bring your own reusable water bottle.

Is photography allowed inside (without flash)?

Yes.

Old Jail Museum
credit St. Marys County Museum Division

What should parents of young children know before visiting the museum?

They should know it was a real working jail and is not a reprodcution. The tour can be adjusted to accomodate young children. There are no specific children’s activities at this time.

What should teachers planning a field trip know before reaching out to you?

The Old Jail Museum building is small, but there is as much to tell outside as inside so groups can be divided and accommodated.

What else should a visitor know before visiting?

The county sheriff’s department – responsible for the Old Jail when it operated – is the oldest sheriff’s department in the United States, having been founded with the county in 1637. This is a truly unique place with great stories to tell!

What are your normal days and hours of operation?

  • 10am – 4pm 7 days a week March 25- Oct 31
  • Noon – 4pm Thursday – Monday Nov 1 – March 24.

Is the museum accessible?

Yes, the first floor is accessible.

Does the museum have a bag check or coat room?

No.

Is there parking available?

Yes, there is parking available on the street.

Is there an admission fee?

The museum is currently open and free of charge.

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