Old Idaho Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho




In 1870 the Territory of Idaho decided to build a prison. The territory had been established for less than ten years at that time. However, those in the town decided they needed some place to keep convicts. They originally called it the Idaho Territorial Prison, but it is now the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. The building lies east of the city of Boise. At the beginning the penitentiary was a single cell house built out of sandstone.

The stone was quarried from ridges nearby the penitentiary. The resident convicts actually mined the rock. They also helped build all later construction. The Old State Penitentiary sits on 5100 acres, with a total of 15 buildings. Architectural style is Romanesque. With over a hundred and three years of operation the prison saw 13,000 convicts. At any given time a maximum population was six hundred. Two hundred and fifteen of these convicts were actually women.

In the 1970's there were two very serious riots. The first broke out in 1971, the second in 1973. The riots were both over living conditions inside the prison. To make the convicts a bit more comfortable 416 residents were moved to a new facility in the south section of Boise. Eventually on December 3, 1973 the Old Idaho Penitentiary was closed.

When the prison closed, the National Historical Society named it a place of historical significance. The historical society wanted to add more records to the history of the penitentiary. To do this they interviewed fifteen prison guards that worked at the site. They have tapes and transcripts from these conversations. The information recorded has to do with the operations and what these guards could remember of the 1950's. Anyone wishing to do research can listen to this collection.

At the site there is a museum and an arboretum. The museum depicts some of the historical artifacts kept at the prison. These artifacts include prison uniforms, utensils, and other things inmates might have had. It is possible to tour the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. In 1999 JC Denton, a weapons collector donated his collection to the state. They put this collection at one of the museums on the prison property. These weapons range from the Bronze Age to those of today. Sport, law enforcement, and military weapons make up the collection. A most important part of the collection is the pieces from the Luristan Bronze age. They date to 3500 B.C.

The Old State Penitentiary is open year round from noon to 5pm. They do close for holidays. Summer hours have the museums and prison open from 10am to 5pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children 6 to 12. They allow for groups to come to the prison. Students living in Boise often go on field trips to the Old Idaho State Penitentiary to learn about local history. Boise is one of the largest cities in Idaho. It is a center for financial businesses, industrial companies, and a tourist center.


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