West Virginia State Penitentiary

01/03/2015 30 images Share: , , Album RSS
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The West Virginia State Penitentiary is a retired, gothic style prison located in Moundsville, West Virginia. It operated from 1876 to 1995. The first building constructed on the site was the North Wagon Gate in 1866. 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. In addition to the North Wagon Gate, there was now north and south cell block areas. 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. It included space for female inmates and personal living quarters for the warden and his family. The facility officially opened in 1876, and it had a prison population of 251 male inmates, including some who had helped construct the very prison that now held them.

Besides working on the construction of their home, the inmates had other jobs to do in support of the prison. In the early 1900s some industries within the prison walls included a carpentry shop, a paint shop, a wagon shop, a stone yard, a brickyard, a blacksmith, a tailor, a bakery, and a hospital. At the same time, revenue from the prison farm and inmate labor helped the prison financially. It was virtually self-sufficient. A prison coal mine located a mile away opened in 1921. This mine helped serve some of the prison's energy needs and saved the state an estimated $14,000 a year. Construction on a school and library was completed in 1900 to help reform and educate inmates.

In 1929, the state decided to double the size of the penitentiary because overcrowding was a problem. The 5 x 7-foot cells were too small to hold three prisoners at a time, but until the expansion there was no other option. Two prisoners would sleep in the bunks with the third sleeping on a mattress on the floor. The state utilized prison labor once again and completed this phase of construction in 1959.

On November 7, 1979, fifteen prisoners escaped from the prison, and on January 1, 1986, one of the most infamous riots in recent history occurred.

The fate of the prison was sealed in a 1986 ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court which stated that the 5 x 7-foot cells were cruel and unusual punishment. Within nine years, the West Virginia State Penitentiary was closed as a prison.

Tours and ghost related events are offered throughout the warmer months of the year. Visit http://www.wvpentours.com/ for more information.

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