What Old Jails Are Being Used for Now
Station on the Riverwalk Hotel
The city of Pueblo built itself a new jail in the 1940s. In 2010, the jail ceased operations, only to reopen later as a boutique-style hotel featuring seven different rooms (which the website still calls “cells”), and a cocktail lounge called “The Clink.”
Museum of Belize
The modern-day Museum of Belize was first built between 1854 and 1857, though at the time it was called Her Majesty's Prison (a reference to Queen Victoria, since Belize was still a British colony at the time). The prison closed in 1992 and re-opened 10 years later as a museum dedicated to the rich history of Belize. The museum hosts a rich collection of Mayan artifacts, harkening back to the days when Belize was the heartland of the Mayan empire,kata and has an impressive collection of artifacts from the British colonial era, as well.
Green Thumb Industries Farm
Warwick, New York
In the 1970s, when Nelson Rockefeller was governor of New York, he pushed for the state to adopt some of the harshest anti-drug laws in the country, treating drug addiction as a criminal matter rather than a health problem. New York's prison population skyrocketed as a result, until the state began reforming the Rockefeller drug laws in 2008.
Many of New York's drug criminals were imprisoned at the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick, about 60 miles outside of Manhattan. The prison closed in 2011, and 10 years later, 40 acres of land on the former prison property were converted into a cultivation site for soon-to-be-legal marijuana. New York State is expected to open adult-use marijuana dispensaries in 2023, and also that year, Warwick's “cannabis campus” run by Green Thumb Industries is expected to start producing tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana, for distribution throughout the state.
Cultural Park of Valparaiso
The oldest parts of this building complex date back to the Napoleonic era, when a fort was built to protect the city of Valparaiso against possible attacks by the English. The still-standing Powder Tower, which could hold up to 800 tons of gunpowder, was constructed between 1807 to 1809. After the war, the complex was converted into a prison, most notoriously where former dictator Augusto Pinochet kept political prisoners. The prison closed in 1999, and local creatives almost immediately started using the empty space for theater and dance performances. In 2012, the Powder Tower, or “Polvorin,” was reopened as a museum, and in 2013 the rest of the complex formally reopened as the Cultural Park of Valparaiso, hosting art exhibitions in addition to theater and dance shows. The rest of the prison grounds are now public parkland.
Louviers Music School
This building was erected between 1646 and 1659, originally as a Franciscan monastery called the Convent of the Penitents. In 1789, after the French Revolution, it was transformed into a prison. The prison closed in 1934 and the building was semi-abandoned for several decades until 1990, when it was reopened as a music school featuring 24 classrooms, two large orchestra rooms and a musical-score library.
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The oldest parts of this boutique hotel were built in 1837, with the main part dating back to 1888. The building originally served as Helsinki's county prison and pre-trial detention center, until the prison was closed in 2002. It reopened five years later as a hotel, with single modern hotel rooms each made up two or three former prison cells. The outer walls, perimeter walls and central open corridor are all protected by the National Board of Antiquities (roughly, the Finnish equivalent to being listed on America’s National Register of Historic Places).
Liberty Crest Apartments
In the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned construction of the Lorton Reformatory, a prison where inmates could learn a trade. The reformatory was far more humane than standard prisons of the time — more like a dormitory than a collection of prison cells, and designed to give inmates far more access to natural light. The prison closed in 2001 and later reopened as a luxury apartment complex with 165 units surrounding a centralized green space. A limited number of units are set aside for residents with limited incomes.
Boston built its imposing Charles Street Jail back in 1851. Over the decades, it held a wide collection of famous and infamous prisoners, including Malcolm X, Sacco and Vanzetti, and many women's suffrage activists who were imprisoned for protesting when then-president Woodrow Wilson visited Boston in 1919. In the 1970s, courts ruled that conditions in the overcrowded jail were bad enough to violate prisoners' constitutional rights. Nonetheless, the jail remained in operation until 1990. In 2007, the renovated building reopened as a luxury hotel with 298 rooms and suites. The hotel also offers regular free-admission activities for guests and city residents alike, such as “Gallery Night Tuesdays” showcasing the work of local artists, and “Beat Weekends” featuring dance parties on Friday and Saturday nights.
Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary
This building dates back to 1896, when it opened for business as Tennessee's first maximum-security state prison. Conditions were brutal; inmates were used as forced labor in the nearby coal mines, and were whipped and beaten for “underproducing.” The prison remained notorious for decades. In 1970, James Earl Ray, who assassinated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was sent to Brushy and made repeated attempts to escape (though he never made it more than a few miles from the prison). In 1972 the prison shut down for four years after guards went on strike to demand safer conditions. Brushy reopened four years later, though conditions had scarcely improved. In 1982, 10 years after the prison guards’ strike, seven white inmates took hostages among the guards, and attacked black inmates in their cells. The prison closed for good in 2009 and reopened in 2018 as a tourist attraction featuring event space rentals, a restaurant (the “Warden's Table”), a distillery, shops, and tours.
Old Sheriff's House and Jail
Crown Point, Indiana
Of all the former prisons on this list, the Old Sheriff's House and Jail probably retains the most prison-like atmosphere of any of them. That's on purpose, since the site is now owned by a historic-preservation foundation. Parts of the building can be rented out for private parties, and volunteers also give historic and paranormal jailhouse tours and run a haunted house every October.
The main jail building dates back to 1908, when Lake County built a new, larger jail in Crown Point to replace its old one. Indeed, the jail was considered one of the best in Indiana at the time, and reputed to be escape-proof — until March 3, 1934, when the notorious bank robber John Dillinger escaped from the Crown Point jail and fled to Chicago, where FBI agents shot and killed him outside of Chicago's Biograph Theater a few months later. In 1988, local history buffs formed the Old Sheriff's House Foundation. The following year the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1990 the foundation acquired the old building and started the process of restoring it to its former glory.
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