: This photograph is a view of the Ohio Penitentiary, looking northwest, in Columbus, Ohio, ca. 1940. The scene includes several buildings, stone walls and possibly a guard tower, and a water tower and tall brick chimney in the background. A paved street is visible in the foreground.
First erected in 1813 at the corner of Main and Second streets, the state penitentiary in Columbus was a three-story brick structure with 13 cells. A new three-story building was built on the same site in 1818. By 1830 the state penitentiary proved inadequate. In 1832, the legislature approved building a new penitentiary capable of holding 500 convicts. This building (the facility shown here) was constructed on Spring Street in 1834. In 1885 the Ohio Pen became the location for all executions, which previously took place in the various county seats. In April 1955 it housed an all-time high of 5,235 prisoners.
The Ohio Penitentiary in the nineteenth century reflected the common belief that prison was more for punishment than for rehabilitation. Conditions within the prison were primitive. Prisoners first slept on straw mattresses, although eventually beds were built. Food was very simple, usually consisting of cornbread, beans, and bacon. Prisoners were required to work in one of the prison industries, which made everything from harnesses and shoes to barrels and brooms. Diseases spread rapidly.
Conditions within the penitentiary had been ripe for a disaster for years. By 1930 the prison held an inmate population that was twice as large as its original capacity. That year the Ohio Penitentiary became the site of the worst fire in American prison history: 322 lives were lost.
Some prison reforms followed, but most of the changes took place after World War II. Overcrowding and prison morale were both serious issues; however, reforms did not come quickly enough to keep three prison riots from occurring. The worst riot occurred in June 1968. A number of buildings were destroyed and five convicts were killed. After this riot the State of Ohio began an investigation, which led to the decision to replace the facility.
The State of Ohio decided to replace the old prison with a new facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Most prisoners were removed from the old prison by 1972. The Ohio Pen was closed in 1984, and the site was abandoned. The City of Columbus bought the old penitentiary in 1995. After lengthy discussion as the best use of the site, the buildings were demolished in 1997 to make way for new development. Many Ohioans sought a brick from the Ohio Penitentiary as a souvenir of its long history.
View on Ohio Memory.
: AL05701 Subjects
: Ohio Penitentiary (Columbus, Ohio); Ohio History--State and Local Government--Corrections; Prisons--Ohio; Columbus (Ohio)--Buildings, structures, etc. Places
: Columbus (Ohio); Franklin County (Ohio)