Cambria County Jail in Ebensburg, PA: Where History Meets the Paranormal

An Architectural Marvel

Situated at the heart of Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, the Cambria County Jail stands tall, a beautiful testament to the Gothic Revival style of architecture.

Constructed in 1872 under the careful supervision of Edward Haviland, this sandstone building measures an impressive 100 feet deep, 60 feet tall, and 56 feet wide.

Its pointed drop arch windows and arch portal are reminiscent of the architectural prowess of the era, and the 22-foot tall stone wall surrounding the jail is an imposing sight.

Cambria County Jail in 2019

The building boasts of a tower that marks the front entrance and wooden floors underlain with iron. The structure comprises two floors, each housing cells that have witnessed a rich history.

The original 27 cells built in 1872 were later supplemented with 52 others in 1911, marking a significant expansion in the jail’s capacity.

A Rich Tapestry of History

Every brick and stone of the Cambria County Jail is steeped in a rich tapestry of history. The story began in April 1870 when the Cambria County commissioners purchased a plot of land from Mrs. E.J. McDonald to construct the county prison.

The plot, costing a then-hefty sum of $2,500, was located between Centre, Crawford, and Sample Streets.

The jail soon became a symbol of Ebensburg’s Welsh roots, with critics from Johnstown mockingly referring to it as a “Welsh castle.”

Cambria County Jail in Ebensburg
Cambria County Jail” by jimmywayne is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Overcrowding was a significant issue in the early years, with as many as 123 men confined within just 27 cells. However, the jail continued to operate until 1997, when it was finally abandoned in favor of a new facility.

Tales of the Haunted Halls

The Cambria County Jail is not just known for its historical and architectural significance. It has also gained fame for its reported hauntings. The gallows, where 11 men met their end, have long been a source of eerie tales and urban legends.

Visitors have often reported hearing screams and cold breezes emanating from the gallows. The jail was even featured as a haunted location on season 3 of Paranormal Lockdown, a popular television show on Destination America.

One of the most intriguing stories is the escape of Michael “Smitty” Smith. Convicted in 1884 of murder, Smitty was to be the fourth person to be executed at the jail.

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However, he mysteriously disappeared without a trace from his cell, leaving behind a farewell letter to the warden. Despite a thorough investigation, Smitty was never found, leaving a compelling mystery that baffles people today.

Transformation and Renovation

The Cambria County Jail has stood tall for over a century, and time has necessitated changes. In June 2020, a plan was announced to transform the jail into a multi-purpose building completely. The blueprint includes offices, retail spaces, an event venue, and a breakfast/brunch spot.

Although the renovations are expected to take several years, the result promises to blend history and modernity perfectly. The project is slated for completion in October 2025.

A Step Back in Time

For those interested in experiencing a slice of history firsthand, the Cambria County Historical Society offered tours of the jail before renovations started.

This was a unique opportunity to walk the same halls that once housed many inmates, hear the echo of their stories, and maybe even experience a chill from the haunted gallows.

A Journey Through Media

Not only has the Cambria County Jail been a subject of local interest, but it has also been featured in various media outlets, further highlighting its historical and cultural significance.

It was the focus of an episode of Paranormal Lockdown, where investigators Nick Groff and Katrina Weidman spent 72 hours investigating the legend of Michael “Smitty” Smith.

The Travel Channel’s show Destination Fear also filmed an episode at the jail, bringing its chilling tales to a broader audience​.

Furthermore, the jail has been immortalized in the literary world as well. In his book, “The Black Gate,” author David Regala Jr. discusses the Cambria County Jail in great detail.

The captivating book covers many of the jail’s haunting stories and even explores the paranormal activity reported within its walls​.

A Recognized Landmark

The Cambria County Jail’s rich history and architectural beauty have also been recognized officially. The jail was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

This distinction serves as a testament to the jail’s importance in the history of Ebensburg and Cambria County in Pennsylvania. It’s not just a building but a witness to the past and a keeper of many stories.

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