Although there have been lawbreakers in Provo ever since the city government passed its first ordinances in 1850, city authorities did not consider building a large jail in the small community for nearly twenty years.
Utah County built a small jail in 1854: a room in the basement of the Seminary located at 100 North and 500 West that served as a lockup. In 1867, Utah County built a small, brick courthouse on the west side of 100 West between 100 and 200 North, and made a small jail in the basement. None of these jails could house more than a few people at the same time.
Late one night in the fall of 1870, between 20 and 30 federal troops held a wild party in Provo. Over half of them soaked up an excessive amount of locally made beer and whisky and ran through the streets of downtown Provo on a liquor-fueled orgy. They broke down doors, smashed windows, shot into houses and even tried to burn down the meetinghouse.
When these soldiers were taken into custody, there was no place to house them, and military authorities had to keep them in custody. The so-called “Provo Riot” made it painfully clear that the community needed a larger jail. Late in 1870 and early in 1871, Provo City and Utah County cooperated to plan and begin work on a new city and county jail located behind the current historic Utah County Courthouse on University Avenue.
Masons used brick to build the two story, 20-by-32-foot building. Workmen installed cells on the ground floor, and the building opened during the fall of 1871. Two years later, carpenters constructed a tall fence around the jail in order to discourage easy interaction betweein prisoners and the outside world.
This jail served the community until shortly after the Provo City Council and the Utah County Court met in a joint session late in 1929 and voted to raze the old building.