Liberty Hotel / Old Suffolk County Jail

Liberty Hotel / Old Suffolk County Jail

Gridley J. Fox Bryant, 1851

Converted to hotel by Cambridge Seven Associates with Ann Beha, 2007

National Register of Historic Places

Preservation Achievement Award, 2008

In this jail’s early decades, prisoners rioted if they were served lobster too often each week. The gentry wouldn’t have it at all. Lobster was so cheap and plentiful that it was considered food fit only for servants and prisoners.

The first jails built in a number of U.S. cities were cruciform in plan, imitating this one. Though it lost the east wing in the late twentieth century, it originally had four symmetrical four-story hipped-roof wings radiating from the central octagonal pavilion. The west wing was the sheriff’s home and office, hospital, and chapel. In 1901 the north wing was enlarged mimicking Bryant’s design, and in 1920 the west wing was doubled, again duplicating the architect’s detailing. Made of Quincy granite, the prominent corner quoins and keystones above the windows add to the gravity of the building.

Over the years, the jail has housed a number of famous inmates including Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, Malcolm X, Sacco and Vanzetti, suffragists imprisoned for protests when President Woodrow Wilson visited Boston in 1919, and World War II prisoners from the German submarine Unterseeboot 234.

When it was considered too antiquated, the former jail was converted to the lobby and restaurant for a hotel. Most of the guest rooms are in the adjacent fifteen-story addition.