The tour of the Missouri State Penitentiary has been on my bucket list for some time after seeing a post on it in a group on Facebook. The penitentiary is located in Jefferson City, about 2 hours from St. Louis. We decided to do the 2 Hour History Tour which was reasonably priced at about $15 a person. In 1836, the penitentiary open its’ doors and remained open until 2004. The prison held inmates for 168 years making it the oldest institution west of the Mississippi River.
The first thing you notice as you make the turn toward the penitentiary is the large stone walls and guard towers looming in the distance.
We arrived about 30 minutes early as recommended on the website, signed our waiver and checked out the different rooms of the entrance area as well as the small gift shop.
Our tour started out by learning about some of the history and then heading out into the upper yard area. I really loved our tour guide. He told a lot of stories which made the tour interesting and fun.
The first building that we entered was Housing Unit 4 or “A-Hall”. Built in 1868, Unit 4 is the oldest remaining building on the grounds. This building was built of stone that was quarried on site and it was built to last. In sharp contrast, I believe the guide said that the brick buildings furthest towards the outside of the grounds were built around the 1930’s and are so structurally unsound that no one is even allowed in them anymore.
After a brief history on the hall, we were able to explore for about 10 minutes. I highly recommend heading all the way up to the top cell block to get the full effect of the building. From here, you can get a birds eye view of all of the cells.
It is really neat because you can even go into each cell and each cell is different. They stress though that whatever you do, do not close a cell door because they do not have any keys!
After this, they led us down to the Administrative Segregation area which is basically the dungeon =). They huddled all of us in our group into a cell that had no windows, only stone walls and turned off the lights to give us the full effect of what it would be like to be housed in this cell. It was creepy to say the least =)
The next building we toured was Housing Unit 3. It was interesting seeing the two different styles of cell blocks. In the basement of this building is Death Row which is available to tour on the 3 Hour History Tour.
The final stop on the tour was the gas chamber which is a small building on the other side of the yard. You can go inside this building and see the restraint chairs and even sit in them if you really want to…
This was our last stop on a really interesting tour. I just could not believe that at its’ peak, this place housed 5,200 inmates and operated until 2004.
Across the street is the Marmaduke House which while the penitentiary was in operation was the Warden’s residence. It now holds a very informational and interesting museum. Entrance to the museum is free if you visit after your tour. I highly recommend the museum. There was a lot of artifacts and personal belongings from inside the prison walls on display.
Be sure to drive past the Missouri State Capital and if you are looking for a place to grab a bite to eat, be sure to visit Prison Brews which is a restaurant and microbrewery just down the street.
Be sure to visit the Missouri State Penitentiary website for more information and to book your tour!