Town Lockup – History Mystery, September 2015
September 15, 2015 – Question
These jail cells were used in Wellesley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and were known as the “lockup.” Does anybody know where they were located? Hint – they were not located at the police station.
Return on September 30th for the answer!
September 30, 2015 – Answer
The Town of Wellesley lockup pictured above was located in the basement of the town Hall and library building, built during 1881-1886. Although they are no longer in use, if you go into the basement you can still see where the cells were located!
The town hall lockup was utilized until 1950 when a police station was built at 485 Washington Street. Before the construction of this station, the police shared space with other town departments or occupied older, repurposed town buildings, none of which had jail cells. Organized in 1893, the Wellesley Police Department (WPD) had its first office space in 1903, in the fire station built in 1899 on Worcester Street in Wellesley Hills. The WPD then moved into the old fire station on Church Street in 1929 after a new fire station was built down the block on Central Street. The current police station was built in 1995 on the same location as the 1950 building.
Due to the lockup’s distance from the police station, the board of selectmen appointed a “Keeper of the Lockup” every year and this post was often filled by the janitor of the town hall. According to a Townsman article from 1929, the Keeper of the Lockup was expected to “take care of the prisoner, to feed him, to make him comfortable, to call competent medical attention if necessary. . . Unfortunately the cells are not close to the present or future station, but that condition has not hindered the conscientious and efficient performance of the lockup-keeper’s duties” (Townsman, Jan 11, 1929, page 1). Two longtime town hall janitors and Keepers of the Lockup were Theodore Hatch, whose wife, Martha, was appointed “Matron of Lockup,” and Owen Comiskey. After the construction of the new police station in 1950, complete with a lockup, the board of selectmen continued the tradition and appointed a Keeper of the Lockup each year. However, they decided to appoint the chief of police, rather than the janitor of the town hall, as Keeper of the Lockup!
Kathleen Fahey, Curator
1927/1945 Atlas of Wellesley featuring the Town Hall. Note the location of the Lockup in the central portion of the building