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Laramie Prison

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The Wyoming Territorial Prison was built in 1872 and opened its doors in early 1873 after being authorized by the Territorial Legislature with approved for funding by the Federal Government. It was originally used to house inmates who committed federal offenses. Laramie was a small prison, beginning with just 42 cells in the north wing, The brick-walled cells were 6' x 6' x 8' with an arched ceiling and an iron gate door. During times of overcrowding, two inmates shared this tiny space. . When Wyoming became a state in 1890, it was switched over to a state prison, which it remained until it closed its doors in 1903 due to overcrowding and poor facilities. It was purchased by the University of Wyoming shortly thereafter and converted for use by the College of Agriculture for several decades. In 1989, a group of Laramie citizens banded together to save the old prison and began restorations. It was officially reopened as a State Historic Site in July 1991 and now features over 190-acres and several exhibits.

The Wyoming Territorial Prison was built in 1872 and opened its doors in early 1873 and was originally used to house inmates who committed federal offenses. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, it was switched over to a state prison, which it remained until it closed its doors in 1903 due to overcrowding and poor facilities. It was purchased by the University of Wyoming shortly thereafter and converted for use by the College of Agriculture for several decades. In 1989, a group of Laramie citizens banded together to save the old prison and began restorations. It was officially reopened as a State Historic Site in July 1991 and now features over 190-acres and several exhibits.

This prison was built in 1872, after being authorized by the Territorial Legislature and approved for funding by the Federal Government. It was a smaller prison, beginning with just 42 cells in the north wing, 14 cells on each of its three levels. The brick-walled cells were 6' x 6' x 8' with an arched ceiling and an iron gate door. During times of overcrowding, two inmates shared this tiny space.

In the early days, the temperature of the cells was about 10 degrees warmer than outside. The heating was improved later when water heaters were added.

The inmates were convicted of offenses ranging from stealing to manslaughter. No capitol offenders were sent here, so there were no executions here. The hardened killers were sent to a prison facility in Cheyenne to serve hard time and meet their fate. It is in this Cheyenne prison that the infamous Julian Gallows was first used.

Wyoming Territorial Prison cost the government a $1.00 a day for the upkeep and education of each inmate, which was considered a very high cost. Because it was cheaper to send inmates to Joliet Prison, and to other out of state prisons, this territorial prison remained small.

When inspected in 1884 by Federal authorities, there were only 10 inmates, so plans were made to expand the prison, or else they would've closed the place. In 1889, the small prison was expanded, doubling its size by adding more cells, a new dining room, chapel/activity room and another wing, called the south wing. The newer cells were smaller, but had plastered walls and were finished with paint. On the 2nd floor of the South Wing, the 12 women inmates were housed; two cells were set up as living quarters, and the third cell was their bathroom. They were locked up 24/7, probably because it was safer for them. The first floor of the South Wing held 42 cells, on three tiers.

Though there was now more room for more inmates, they didn't hire enough guards at first, which led to a high number of escape attempts.

It wasn't long before this Wyoming Territorial Prison was over-crowded again. Plans were made to make a much bigger prison in Rawlins, where hardened killers and inmates convicted on lesser criminal acts could be kept all under one roof, consolidating prisons for better price control. Uh oh! They weren't thinking clearly.

In 1903, When the new prison in Rawlins was opened, Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie was converted to the Agricultural Experiment Station. For 60 years, it was a big stock farm which was under the direction of Bert C. Buffin, and under the control of The University of Wyoming in Laramie. For 60 years, this farm educated and gave practical experience to the students, learning both new and established ways to run a farm.

In 1989, the land of the farm and the prison itself was bought and restored, becoming a state park and museum, after a lot of work and fund-raising.

Tom and I visited and took the tour. This do-it-yourself tour is a fascinating experience. One sees furnished cells, dining area, guard' s quarters, infirmary, women's quarters, laundry room, and warden' s office, plus many interesting exhibits, including one on Butch Cassidy, and stories of the other various inmates, male and female. Besides exhibits in the prison buildings, there are also exhibits in some of the farm buildings and barn. There is also a frontier town on the property which will be selling items from the 1800's in the near future.

 

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