If the kids tell you that the house rules make them feel like their in prison, put the Old Idaho Penitentiary on your vacation stop. No commission of a crime required, just stop by their location in Boise, Idaho.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site was used as Idaho’s prison between 1870-1973. The prison was originally a single building, but the growing population brought a need for a growing prison, and several additional buildings were added, all surrounded by a high sandstone wall. These additions to the prison complex were constructed with sandstone that the prisoners quarried and cut, back at a time when hard labor was a part of prison life.
As happened at many prisons in the 1970’s, the over-crowded conditions led to a prison riot, occurring here in Boise both 1971 and again in 1973. As a result, prisoners were moved to other facilities, with the State Pen closing in 1973. That same year the prison was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors to the prison have the opportunity to view a video detailing the history of the prison, along with some of its notorious inmates, and some of the conditions of prison life. You’ll also see an array of weapons (some great old swords), and and learn the history and meaning of prison tattoos. You can also visit Siberia (solitary confinement) as well as Death Row. Touring the prison involves lots of walking and often uneven ground. Good walking shoes are recommended,
Among all dreariness of stone and bars is a rose garden. The prisoners maintained the grounds and the garden, and both are in the same condition today as it was prior to the prison closure. There was some beauty in prison.
Location: The prison is located at 2445 Old Penitentiary Road in Boise, Idaho (map).
Hours: It is open all year long (closed on holidays). Summer hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day) are 10 am – 5 pm. The balance of the year, hours are noon – 5 pm.
Admission: $5 adults; $4 seniors; $3 children ages 6-12. Discounts for groups and AAA members.
Photo credit: Peter Wollheim