The first Old Penitentiary was opened in 1870, and closed its doors in 1973. In that time span the Old Pen has harbored much history, and is a huge educational part of Idaho.The Penitentiary opened back up in 1974 to the public, and holds many stories in its rusty flecking walls. “Danny Williams escaped through the wall and ended up in a pile of pig slop,” said Rachelle Littau, interpretive specialist. “The last to be hung Ray Snowden took 15 to 20 minutes to die,” Littau also said. Despite its dark past the Penitentiary has become an important educational site. Throughout the penitentiary you can find facts on the various plaques surrounding the area, but there are also many things the plaques can’t tell you. “Ten men were hung at the Old Penitentiary,” Littau said, also commenting on how the Penitentiary’s history hasn’t been a happy one. The Old Penitentiary is currently located on Warm Springs estates, and has its own neighborhood called Old Penitentiary Way. It is also the site of the Idaho Historical Society, as well as the Commission of the Arts buildings. Inside the Old Penitentiary you can find an automobile museum as well as an Arm’s museum. “The Old Penitentiary housed 13,000 inmates,” said Littau. But now it just houses curious citizens looking too willing spend the day in jail. The Old Penitentiary may seem to be an old and flecking place on the outside, but its walls hold unimaginable stories, of human beings who choose the wrong path in life. If you walk around you will see a chapel never finished, as well as a dining hall that featured a prisoners’ riot. The Old Penitentiary holds ghosts of the past, and will further educate the people of the present.
The Idaho Penitentiary started as one cell house that grew into several distinct structures surrounded by a sandstone wall and guard towers. The Pen was designed to reflect the “Pennsylvania System” of reform. This system emphasized solitary confinement, work, exercise and religion as means to foster self-reflective remorse and reformation. This philosophy was eventually discarded due to high suicide and insanity rates.
(Info from THS Focus 208 student)