Former police station transformed into must-see apartments

Deborah Allard

When renting an apartment, a prospective tenant might inquire about cabinet space, parking and pets, but not many think to ask if there’s an available jail cell.

That doesn’t mean having a jail cell wouldn’t come in handy.

Charles Jacobson, owner of the old police/fire substation that he converted into an apartment building at 77 Freedom St. in Fall River, Mass., is one such landlord who touts the possibilities of having your very own jail cell — or four.

“This was a working station,” Jacobson said, standing in a space where a detective’s desk once likely stood.

Jacobson recently advertised his 1,200-square-foot, first-floor apartment at $700 per month and showed off all the amenities, including appliances, lots of closet space and, yes, four jail cells, each with brick walls, a cement floor and a little barred window. But, don’t worry, there’s only one cell with a door, and it doesn’t lock.

“This is pretty much the way this was,” Jacobson said. “I tried to keep it different and unusual. I’m not trying to compete with the three-deckers.”

Jacobson, a member of the city’s Preservation Society and a history and antiques lover who’s done a lot of research on the property, said the cells were mainly used to keep drunkards overnight. They probably saw their share of thieves and fighters, too.

There were three such Victorian substations in the city, including the structures on Pleasant and North Main streets, Jacobson said. He’s working with the Preservation Society to turn the North Main Street station into a fire museum.

The central police station was located at the intersection of Granite and Purchase streets. It shared space with the District Courthouse from about 1857 to 1915 when the Bedford Street station was built.

All the substations were built around 1873 or 1874 when the city was divided into four districts, said Fall River police Lt. Charles Cullen, the department’s unofficial historian. The Freedom Street substation was known as the southern police station, later called Division No. 4.

Michael Martins, curator of the Fall River Historical Society, said services were split into districts in those days because travel time (by horse) was slower, which would have translated into a slower response time if there had been just one police or fire station.

Today’s one, centralized Police Department on Pleasant Street was built to accommodate not only more officers but more criminals.

It has 20 individual jail cells for men and six for women. It also has four special juvenile holding rooms, according to Cullen.

The brick, Freedom Street substation has several reminders of bygone days when police and fire personnel did their business on horseback.

Today’s first-floor apartment functioned as that station’s police headquarters. What is now an open dining and living room would have been the main office, centered with detectives’ desks. The holding cells were to the left of the detectives and in easy view.

The bedroom would have been the commander’s office. In the rear of the apartment, a corner sink is original from the old station.

One of the jail cells has been converted into a bathroom. It is the only one with a cell door. Since it is barred, another more common door covers the area for privacy.

The one cell door, Jacobson said, was found in the basement after he purchased the station in 1989. It was “covered under muck.” He uncovered it and called in a welder to reattach the door.

The other three cells are little rooms that could be used for closets, an office, crafting or sewing.

Jacobson said he was one of six people who bid on the old station when the city put it up for sale.

“I fell in love with it,” he said.

He won the bid and paid $37,000. In about a year and a half, Jacobson and his son, Jeffrey, renovated parts of the structure and turned it into four apartments. There’s space for three more dwellings.

“We spent more time than money,” Jacobson said. “We accepted the challenge.”

Jacobson, who lives in the former school administration building on Rock Street and drives a 1928 green Model A Ford, was excited to show off the many interesting points of the old station. The 8-foot doors and 12-foot ceilings. The antique decor that hangs in the hallways — all his finds — including an old firefighter’s uniform. The horse stable and original hay loft. And, the old hose tower.

“The hose tower was built to let the cotton hoses dry out ... or they’d sit and rot,” Jacobson said. Now, the area functions as a hallway and fire exit with a spiral, metal staircase.

“To come here is a different experience,” Jacobson said.

The old Freedom Street substation was used by police until the 1960s, when all three substations merged with the 1915-era, modern Bedford Street station, Cullen said.

The horse stables on Freedom Street were in use until the 1920s or ‘30s when vehicles became more popular and efficient than horses. In the 1950s, part of the site was used as a voter registration office. The Tree Department also made use of the premises.

The building was vacant for some 35 years, Jacobson said. Vandals had made their way in and caused damage. He said the city tried to sell the site in 1982, but there were no bidders.

Jacobson’s daughter, Charlotte, lives in one of the apartments. It was where the firemen spent their time. Her living room was a game room with pool tables and lockers. Jacobson rebuilt one of the original fireplaces in Charlotte’s apartment with the marble mantle he found on the floor.

One of the other apartments was once used for police lodging. And, the last was the attic. Jacobson said the hay loft with its round windows and high ceilings would make a nice townhouse with a loft.

“There are always activities to do here,” Jacobson said.

E-mail Herald News writer Deborah Allard at