The West Virginia State Penitentiary is a retired, Gothic style prison located in Moundsville, West Virginia. It operated from 1876 to 1995. Currently, the site is maintained as a tourist attraction and training facility.
In 1863, West Virginia seceded from Virginia at the height of the American Civil War. Consequently, the new state had a shortage of various public institutions, including prisons. From 1863 to 1866, Governor Arthur I. Boreman lobbied the West Virginia Legislature for a state penitentiary but was repeatedly denied. The Legislature at first tried to direct him to send the prisoners to other institutions out of the state, and then they directed him to use existing county jails, which turned out to be inadequate. After nine inmates escaped in 1865, the local press took up the cause, and the Legislature took action. On 7 February 1866, the state legislature approved the purchase of land in Moundsville for the purpose of constructing a state prison. Ten acres were purchased just outside of the then city limits of Moundsville for $3000. Moundsville proved an attractive site, as it is approximately twelve miles south of Wheeling, West Virginia, which at that time was the state capital.
The state built a temporary wooden prison nearby that summer. This gave prison officials time to assess what prison design should be used. Northern Illinois Penitentiary at Joliet proved to be an attractive design. Its Gothic Revival architecture "exhibit[ed], as much as possible, great strength and convey[ed] to the mind a cheerless blank indicative of the misery which awaits the unhappy being who enters within its walls."
The first building constructed on the site was the North Wagon Gate. It was made with hand-cut sandstone, which was quarried from a local site. The state used prison labor during the construction process, and work continued on this first phase until 1876. When completed, the total cost was of $363,061. In addition to the North Wagon Gate, there was now north and south cellblock areas (both measuring 300 ft. by 52 ft.). South Hall had 224 cells (7 ft. by 4 ft.), and North Hall had a kitchen, dining area, hospital, and chapel. A 4-story tower connecting the two was the administration building (measuring 75 ft. by 75 ft.). It included space for female inmates and personal living quarters for the warden and his family. The facility officially opened in this year, and it had a prison population of 251 male inmates, including some who had helped construct the very prison that now held them. After this phase, work began on prison workshops and other secondary facilities.
Canon EOS 40D |
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