HISTORY OF THE COLORADO PRISON MUSEUM
The Colorado Prison Museum is much more than the troubled people that were incarcerated there. It is a piece of history. Come live the history as you walk through the old cells that were once occupied in by the worst! Feel the chills as you pass by the wall that still divides the museum from an actual working prison!
The Musuem of Colorado Prisons opened its doors to the public on June 18, 1988. Since then, more than 200,000 visitors have toured the Museum, including visitors from every state in the U.S., its territories, and over 50 foreign countries.
The Museum's mission is to collect, preserve, conserve, exhibit, and interpret the historical heritage of the Colorado Prison System, to operate and maintain the Museum, and to encourage and foster historical research, study, education, and scholarly publications in these areas. It also serves as a reminder to the public that crime has a consequence. The Museum believes that using educational programs along with exhibits of prison artifacts and living history interpretation to teach prison history, may deter criminal behavior, as well as preserve a very important aspect of Colorado's history.
The concept of the Museum originated by a group of concerned Fremont County residents. In the early 1980's, the project began with volunteers seeking to obtain the use of the former Women's Prison building, which was constructed in 1935. It is located adjacent to the east wall of the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, an active prison since 1871. Approval by the Colorado State Legislature on April 24, 1986 gave the city of Canon City, which in turn gave to the Foundation, a 99-year lease to use the cell house as a museum.
A Board of Directors was organized on October 15, 1986 and immediately started to raise the necessary funds for stabilizing the building, upgrading the heating and lighting systems, and providing access for the handicapped. Grants, lottery proceeds, in-kind contributions, donations, and loans were all used to cover the expenses necessary for repairs and opening operational expenses.
Renovation of the cell house was completed in June 1988, just in time for the summer tourist season. The restoration preserved the atmosphere of the original cell house, as it was when it housed inmates. While construction work was being completed, volunteers collected and catalogued artifacts and began to establish exhibits portraying the Colorado Prison System from 1871 to the present.
Exhibits at the Museum cover over 140 years of history, depicting prison life from early Territorial Prison days forward. The cell house has 2 floors, the upper level with 30 inmate cells, hallway, office space, and gift shop, while the lower level houses the dining room, archival storage (former trustee sleep area), general purpose room, original kitchen, isolation cells, Federal Prison Display, and laundry room. Each cell on the upper level tells a story of some phase of life behind walls and bars. Exhibits inlcude the office furnishings used by Warden Roy Best, and documentation on the Prison Riots of 1929 and 1947. Other exhibits feature infamous inmates such as Alfred Packer (convicted of cannibalism), Antone Woode ( a twelve-year old convicted of murder), working and living conditions, punishments, and assorted other topics. All of the artifacts and exhibits depict lives of inmates and guards as they lived and worked in the Colorado Prisons.