Information on:

West Virginia Penitentiary

818 Jefferson Avenue


The prison at Joliet provided the prototype for the West Virginia Penitentiary. It was an imposing stone structure fashioned in the castellated Gothic architectural style (adorned with turrets and battlements, like a castle). Only the dimensions of West Virginia's facility would differ; it would be approximately one-half the size of Joliet.

No architectural drawings of the West Virginia Penitentiary have been discovered, so an understanding of the plan developed by the Board of Directors must be obtained through their 1867 report, which details the procurement of a title for ten acres of land and a proposal to enclose about seven acres. On the north side would be a street 60 feet in width, and on the west 140 feet for street and yard to the front buildings.

The prison yard would be a parallelogram 682 1/2 feet in length, by 352 1/2 feet in width, enclosed by a stone wall 5 feet in thickness at the bottom, 2 1/2 feet at the top, with foundation 5 feet below the surface, and wall 25 inches thick. At each of the corners of this wall would be large turrets, for the use of the guards, with inside staircases. Guardrooms would be above on a level with the top of the main. The superintendent's house and cell buildings would be so placed that the rear wall of each would form part of the west wall.


Shawn Sands

Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018
The Monday Mystery Tour is AWESOME!!!! I went twice within 2 weeks! Ryan was tour guide both times.....he is EXCELLENT! He is not only knowledgeable, but informative and FUN as well! All the staff that I encountered were very friendly! On this particular tour, you move around a lot and get a LOT of information regarding prison life as it was when the penitentiary was operational. I do NOT recommend this for kids under 16 or people who have trouble walking a lot and doing stairs! There is no air conditioning, so i suggest you get there as early as possible. Just as the website describes. I hope they continue the Monday tour!!!

Chelsie Howsare

Saturday, June 30, 2018
This is an interesting part of West Virginia history. From the outside, the prison is beautiful. After you get inside, you soon get a feel for the community it once was. If you're wondering why I refer to the prison as a community, you should consider a tour. Our guide, Chuck, used to work at the prison years ago. He told us many stories that took place inside those walls. Although the penitentiary is known as being one of the most violent in the U.S., you'll start to see inmates are human too. There is a lot of art painted on the walls that was created by the inmates. There were many contributions made by the inmates from this prison, and it is interesting to learn about.

Erin Gray

Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Very interesting if you're into touring historic landmarks... Charles Manson was once transferred and stayed there for awhile. They still have "Old Sparky", the electric chair on display. Once you approach it you will be mesmerized by the architecture and size of the building. They have a haunted attraction during Halloween season and touring year round. You can also pay to go stay overnight and ghost hunt because they claim it is a legit haunted attraction. The show Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel filmed a episode there. I highly recommend a visit! You won't be disappointed!

Dawn Ewig

Saturday, June 23, 2018
Highly recommend the tour, especially if Chuck is your tour guide. He was a former guard and had unique stories that I had not heard on previous visits. He is very friendly and knowledgeable

Michael Collette

Saturday, April 7, 2018
The tour was very entertaining and informative. Our tour guide Jason was very knowledgeable and made it a great experience. The history within this prison is amazing. Their are different tours available. We went on a historical tour. They also offer a paranormal you can go in at night. From what I was told adults can do 10pm to 4am.

West Virginia Penitentiary is not affiliated with AmericanTowns Media