During the 19th Century, Tolland was the hub of law and order for all of Tolland County. All those who broke the law in any of the towns of the County were tried in the Courthouse, and, if found guilty of misdemeanors requiring jail time of up to one year, would serve their time there, probably working in the barns and gardens on the property and on the 100 acre farm property where the junior high school is today. They might also be assigned to work in the kitchen.
Those accused of felonies would be held in the jail until their trial, perhaps moving on to the state prisons, occasionally returning there for a year or less. They were not allowed out of the cellblock to work while awaiting trial. The earliest portion of the jail itself, the stone (center) section, dates from 1856. The brick section was added in 1893.
The 32-cell facility was operated by the county until 1960, and by the state from 1960 to 1968. Even some former inmates have visited the jail, and have told stories of life at the old “Hollyhock Hotel”, as it was affectionately known. Before a disastrous fire in 1893, there was an actual hotel attached to the jail, known then as the County House. People having business with the courts, and other travelers, needed a place to stay, meals, and a livery stable to provide transportation or tend to the needs of their horses. After the courts moved to Rockville, the hotel was no longer needed, and when it burned to the ground in 1893, it was replaced by a residence for the jailer and his family.
It is hard to imagine an old-fashioned county jail when our country is filled with massive, maximum security institutions with hundreds of cells. The security system was likely rather primitive, considering that the first and most simple form of electronic key was only developed in the 1950s. It is very likely that the locks that were used to keep the prisoners inside might, today, be easily breachable with a bobby pin.
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