Ohio Penitentiary
The Ohio Penitentiary, also known as the Ohio State Penitentiary, or less formally, the Ohio Pen or State Pen, was a prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

 operated from 1834-1983 in downtown Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, Ohio
Columbus is the capital of and the largest city in the U.S. state of Ohio. The broader metropolitan area encompasses several counties and is the third largest in Ohio behind those of Cleveland and Cincinnati. Columbus is the third largest city in the American Midwest, and the fifteenth largest city...

, in what is now known as the Arena District
Arena District
The Arena District is a , mixed-use urban infill, master planned development located in downtown Columbus, Ohio. It is characterized by its New Urbanism layout, mixed-use, and neo-classical American design. The architecture is of the Chicago School style, being influenced by Daniel Burnham in...

. The prison housed 5,235 prisoners at its peak in 1955. Conditions in the prison have been described as "primitive", and the facility was eventually replaced by the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility
Southern Ohio Correctional Facility
The Southern Ohio Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison in Lucasville, Ohio, United States. The prison was constructed in 1972 and currently contains the death house for Ohio where death row inmates are executed...

, a maximum security facility in Lucasville
Lucasville, Ohio
Lucasville is a census-designated place in Scioto County, Ohio, United States. The population was 1,588 at the 2000 census. The village of Lucasville was laid out by Captain John Lucas in June 1819 and recorded August 7, 1819. Captain Lucas built the first tavern in the village and kept it until...

. During its operation, it housed several well-known inmates, including General John H. Morgan
John Hunt Morgan
John Hunt Morgan was a Confederate general and cavalry officer in the American Civil War.Morgan is best known for Morgan's Raid when, in 1863, he and his men rode over 1,000 miles covering a region from Tennessee, up through Kentucky, into Indiana and on to southern Ohio...

, who famously escaped the prison during the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, "Bugs" Moran, O. Henry
O. Henry
O. Henry was the pen name of the American writer William Sydney Porter . O. Henry's short stories are well known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization and clever twist endings.-Early life:...

, Chester Himes
Chester Himes
Chester Bomar Himes was an American writer. His works include If He Hollers Let Him Go and a series of Harlem Detective novels...

, and Sam Sheppard
Sam Sheppard
Dr. Samuel Holmes Sheppard was an American osteopathic physician and neurosurgeon, who was involved in an infamous and controversial murder trial. He was convicted of the murder of his pregnant wife, Marilyn Reese Sheppard, in 1954, while residing in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Sheppard served...

, whose story is said to have inspired the movie The Fugitive
The Fugitive (1993 film)
The Fugitive is a 1993 American thriller film based on the television series of the same name. The film was directed by Andrew Davis and stars Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. The film was one of the few movies associated with a television series to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best...

. A separate facility for women prisoners was completed within the walls of the Ohio Penitentiary in 1837. The building was finally demolished in 1998.


On April 21, 1930, a major fire killed 322 inmates and seriously injured 150. A cordon of penitentiary guards was thrown about the towering prison walls. Other squads took up vantage points in guard tower
Guard tower
Guard tower serves as a general term for any military tower providing vigilance, and henceforth guarding a certain area.-Famous guard towers:*Alcatraz guard towers*Auschwitz II guard towers*Tower of London*Yuma Territorial Prison 1876 guard tower....

s and by this time 500 soldiers from Fort Hayes
Fort Hayes
Fort Hayes, a military post in Columbus, Ohio, United States, was created by an act of the United States Congress in 1877. As of 2007, the property is primarily used for the Columbus School District's Fort Hayes Metropolitan Education Center and bus depot. Currently, the 391st Military Police...

, local military post, were on the scene.
Machine guns were mounted at the gates and on the walls. Bayonets were fixed and the troopers were ordered to shoot to kill. A troop of National Guardsmen
Ohio Army National Guard
The Ohio Army National Guard is a part of the United States National Guard and a reserve component of the United States Army. It is also a component of the organized militia of the state of Ohio, which also includes the Ohio Naval Militia, the Ohio Military Reserve and the Ohio Air National Guard...

 soon augmented the regulars, and 30 minutes after the fire started the prison was completely surrounded.

The incident was the subject of Chester Himes
Chester Himes
Chester Bomar Himes was an American writer. His works include If He Hollers Let Him Go and a series of Harlem Detective novels...

' (an inmate at the time) story To What Red Hell (published in Esquire
Esquire (magazine)
Esquire is a men's magazine, published in the U.S. by the Hearst Corporation. Founded in 1932, it flourished during the Great Depression under the guidance of founder and editor Arnold Gingrich.-History:...

in 1934) as well as to his novel Cast the First Stone—later republished unabridged as Yesterday Will Make You Cry (1998).


In 1885, the penitentiary became the site for executions, which had been carried out by local law enforcement officials up to that time. At first, prisoners condemned to death were executed by hanging, but in 1897 the electric chair replaced the prison's gallows. A total of 315 prisoners, both men and women, were electrocuted between 1897 and 1963, when the death penalty was halted in Ohio. A number of women served on death row in the prison and ultimately faced execution either by hanging or in the electric chair.


The prison was the site of the "Halloween Riot", on October 31, 1952, which left one inmate dead and four injured, as well as the riot
Prison riot
A prison riot is an act of concerted defiance or disorder by a group of prisoners against the prison administrators, prison officers, or other groups of prisoners in attempt to force change or express a grievance....

 of August 1968, which ended with five dead inmates, five injured inmates and seven injured officers.


After the closure of the Ohio Penitentiary in 1983, the building stood vacant for more than a decade, though it was used as a training site for a time by the Ohio National Guard
Ohio National Guard
The Ohio National Guard comprises:* Ohio Army National Guard* Ohio Air National Guard-External links:* compiled by the United States Army Center of Military History...

, was briefly known as "The Haunted Prison" for Halloween
Hallowe'en , also known as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the night before All Saints' Day...

 festivities, and attracted a number of urban explorers
Urban exploration
Urban exploration is the examination of the normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas or industrial facilities. Urban exploration is also commonly referred to as infiltration, although some people consider infiltration to be more closely associated with the exploration of active or...

. The building also served as the setting for the 1985 made-for-TV movie "Love on the Run", starring Stephanie Zimbalist
Stephanie Zimbalist
Stephanie Zimbalist is an American actress best known for her role as Laura Holt on the NBC detective series Remington Steele.-Background:...

 and Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin
Alexander Rae "Alec" Baldwin III is an American actor who has appeared on film, stage, and television.Baldwin first gained recognition through television for his work in the soap opera Knots Landing in the role of Joshua Rush. He was a cast member for two seasons before his character was killed off...

. The state eventually sold it to the city of Columbus in 1995. The Burnham Square Condominiums, named after urban planner and architect Daniel Burnham
Daniel Burnham
Daniel Hudson Burnham, FAIA was an American architect and urban planner. He was the Director of Works for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He took a leading role in the creation of master plans for the development of a number of cities, including Chicago and downtown Washington DC...

, who designed Columbus's Union Station
Union Station (Columbus, Ohio)
Columbus Union Station and its predecessors served railroad passengers in Columbus, Ohio from February 27, 1850, until April 28, 1977.- History :Columbus Union Station as it is recalled today was actually the third Union Station in Columbus...

, and the Nationwide Arena
Nationwide Arena
Nationwide Arena is a multi-purpose arena, in Columbus, Ohio, USA. It opened in 2000 and is the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, of the NHL....

 now stand on the site of the former penitentiary.

Among the wardens of the penitentiary was Charles C. Walcutt
Charles C. Walcutt
Charles Carroll Walcutt was an American surveyor, soldier, and politician. He served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, in which he was wounded twice....

, a former general in the Union Army during the Civil War. The last Warden was T.D. Taylor.

External links

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