West Virginia State Penitentiary

The West Virginia State Penitentiary is a gothic-style prison located in Moundsville, West Virginia. Now withdrawn and retired from prison use, it operated from 1876 to 1995. Currently, the site is maintained as a tourist attraction and training facility.DesignThe West Virginia State Penitentiary's design is similar to the facility at the 1858 state prison in Joliet, Illinois, with its castellated Gothic, stone structure, complete with turrets and battlements, except it is scaled down to half the size. The original architectural designs have been lost. The dimensions of the parallelogram-shaped prison yard are 82½ feet in length, by 352½ feet in width. The stone walls are 5ft thick at the base, tapering to 2½ feet at the top, with foundations 5ft deep. The center tower section is 682ft long. It lies at the western side of the complex along Jefferson Avenue and is considered the front, as this is where the main entrance is located. The walls here are 24ft high and 6ft wide at the base, tapering to 18in towards the top.HistoryFoundingIn 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; the Wagon Gate was the only building at this site during the Civil War. 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 directed 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 February 7, 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 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.

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Moundsville, WV
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