top of page

Old Idaho State Penitentiary ("The Old Pen")

The construction of the Territorial Prison, using inmate labor, started in 1870. Opening in 1872, The Old Idaho Penitentiary, started its 101 year journey. The 17 feet high walls and the first buildings were constructed using hand cut sandstone, that was mined at the nearby quarries. Later, more buildings were added as needed using concrete. The use of inmate labor kept the cost down and the inmates busy, for idleness caused problems. There were various jobs inside the prison for the inmates. They had their own bakery, commissary, license plate factory, shirt factory, blacksmith, carpenter shop, barber shop, kitchen, laundry, and toy building for the less fortunate, to name a few. Some of the inmates worked in the farms and quarries outside the prison. New skills were also taught to inmates, and educational programs were available for them. The prison followed Auburn System, also known as the New York system, which meant doing communal work during the day, and separate sleeping quarters at night, with enforced silence at all times. Some of the original buildings were replaced with others over the years, and some were remodeled and found new uses. The buildings still remaining today are the Administration Building, Visitation Room, Women's Ward, 1889 "New" Cell House, 1870 Territorial Prison turned into a Chapel in1938,1899 3 House (South Wing), 1899 2 House (North Wing), and the1898 Dining Hall. In addition, there are The False Front Buildings, Solitary Confinement,1923 Multipurpose Building,1952 4 House,and the 1954 5 House/Maximum Security. Outside the prison wall, you'll find the Guard's House, Bishop's House, and the Warden's House. The first hanging execution onsite was in 1878. Between 1900-1929, six more hangings were executed in the area, that today is the Rose Garden. In 1957, Raymond Snowden was the first and the last one to be executed in 5 House's Gallows. Each prison has its own stories of escape attempts and riots. The Old Pen had 7 occasions where the inmates rebelled against injustice, or the poor living conditions. The 1971 and 1973 riots did the most damage. Several buildings were set on fire, including the Hospital, Dining Hall, and the Chapel. After the last riot in 1973, the Old Pen closed its doors. Over 13,000 inmates served time there over the years, including 215 women. The Old Pen was placed on National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and was turned into a museum, now owned and run by the Idaho State Historical Society. They have done a superb job in displaying photos, a time line of the prison, and exhibits, including the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit of Arms and Armaments. They also have tapes and transcripts from 1950's to the time of closing for the public to see. You can purchase a well written book with great pictures called, "Images of America, Old Idaho Penitentiary," written by Amber Beierle, Ashley Phillips, and Hanako Wakatsuki. Wikipedia also has a wonderful article about the Old Pen worth reading. Ghost Adventurers have their findings available online from their investigation at the Old Pen. So is the Old Pen haunted? According to the Ghost Adventurers, the answer is yes. They captured disembodied voices and video images, and had personal experiences in various areas of the prison, including the Rose Garden, 5 House, Siberia, and the shower area. Strange sounds, voices, feelings of sadness, physical contact, and apparitions have been reported. During our tour, the K2 meter didn't pick up anything unusual, except in Raymond Snowden's cell. Due to contamination factor in a group tour, we can't count any EVPs as evidence. I have no doubt that we would get voice evidence from several areas, given a chance to investigate it. The Old Idaho Penitentiary is a great place to visit to learn about the history and the way things were in the late 1800's. Maybe it will lead to greater appreciation of what we have now to those who do pay a visit to the Old Pen.

To see more photos from this location, click on the link below:

bottom of page