Even growing up just a half hour away from this prison, I still didn’t know much about it. We rarely went to Ft. Madison, but when we did, it was had not to see the prison. As you cross the Mississippi River the prison just sets to the right as you enter Iowa. It always looked like a castle to me. But that was because of how old the Iowa State Penitentiary actually is. The original portion of the prison was built in 1836. It had been expanded a few more times since then.
Having been shut down for a few years, they opened the prison up for a limited time to give the public a glimpse of what it looks like from the inside. Today the historical society is trying to figure out how to preserve the prison. I’d love to see it turned into a film production location. Photos taken May 7th, 2017.
This is actually the original portion of the prison built in 1836. We were only able to pass through here, but not actual go through it. There hadn’t been any prisoners living in here for several years. The other side of this building were the operation offices for the staff.
The jail cells of the original prison.
Part of the kitchen area. The deep freeze.
Notice the dates still left? July 2nd – July 8th.
This menu was found against the wall in one of the cell blocks. Printed April 14th, 2014.
One of the more modern jail cells from one of the “newer” additions.
The marker at the top says that this portion of the prison was built in 1911.
From what I remember, I believe the upper portion of this was a theater. First floor is the kitchen/cafe. They wouldn’t take us to the theater. I got the feeling that it was perfectly fine. Not a structure issue, but maybe because of the number of people here this day, it would have been too crowded? But I also got the impression that maybe the guides, most either current or retired prison guards, may have been somewhat leery of the theater. I think they said there had been a major riot inside where some prisoners had died. So maybe it was haunted?
In this block, the cells were back to back. We were led from one side, through a couple doors that led to the other side. In between these doors was another door that provided access to the pluming and electrical between the cells. This is looking through the window of that door. So this would be the area the the prisoners would gain, if they were able to get out through the back of the cells.
Guessing they either put a light in so that the guests could see what the area looked like, or for possibly when they made their rounds to make sure no prisoners were in that space.
It took us several hours to get into the prison. They took groups of 20 every 15 minutes I believe. This was a free event with food donation. This single open day was so popular that I believe they have opened the prison a few more times since.
The Mississippi. Illinois on the other side.