Iowa State Penitentiary – Fort Madison, Iowa

Iowa State Penitentiary Ft Madison Prison.jpg- Fort Madison, Iowa
The Prison is a place to look at but you certainly don’t want to be a resident! The penitentiary was built in 1839 this is a maximum secutiry prison.

Iowa State Penitentiary is the oldest prison west of the Mississippi. The original cell block is still in use today and several cell houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearly 900 inmates are housed at the Iowa State Penitentiary.

Prison Industries is the work arm of the Iowa Department of Corrections where they manufacture products, do farming and private sector work programs.  These programs are self funded which means they get no state assistance.  Since 1996 the programs have returned over $10 million in revenue to the General fund for education, taxes, family support and room and board.

Fort Madison concentrates its work on wood funiture of all types and textiles.  There are a wide range of products produced at the Fort from tables & desks to seating and school funishings to name just a few.  If you are interested in learning more about what they have to offer you can contact them at:
Ft. Madison Division
PO Box 316, Avenue E & 1st Street
Ft. Madison, IA 52627
In Iowa: 800-382-0019
Phone: 319-372-5432
This huge prison dominates the land on the north side of Fort Madison with it’s guard towers, thick stone construction, vintage architectual design and imposing apprearance.

Address: 31 Avenue G, PO Box 316, Ft. Madison, Iowa 52627

Iowa State Penitentiary
(Visits may not begin after 2:30 p.m.)
Monday 8:30 am-4:00 pm
Thursday 8:30 am-4:00 pm
Friday 8:30 am-4:00 pm
Saturday 8:30 am-4:00 pm
Sunday 8:30 am-4:00 pm  



  1. joyce donaldson says:

    I think you should turn the old prison into a tour place when the new one is built it will help pay for the new one in the long run I would pay to take a tour of it after it is closed and the new one is built. I know of others who would also pay to take tours of it

  2. Miranda Webster says:

    THAT is a BRILLIANT idea joyce Donaldson! put the new one out on the farm land or something.
    Wht a cool idea! My HUGe family would go, adn bring people to it in the future as well.
    another attraction to fort madison…

  3. Roseann Tulliani says:

    I agree that would make a great place to tour I have been in there one time to visit an inmate and found it to be scary.

  4. Melissa Schneider says:

    I also think what Joyce was saying about giving tours of the old historic prison, would be a great idea. And to use the money to put back into the community, very good idea. I would love to take a tour of the prison and also know people that would also love to take tours. Also you would have people who would travel, to see the prison tours. I ‘m very excited that they are building a new facility for the prisoner’s because after those inmates got loose I think everyone got very nervous, luckily they were caught a short time later.

  5. vickie linn castell-Nelson says:

    I live in a small town in Illinois right now, I was born in Marshalltown Iowa in 1954 to a Neal Raymond Castell and Mary L. Castell.
    I am the last of six children, one brother and and three sisters have passed, I have one sister still living.
    My father Neal Raymond passed away when I was just seven, the last time I seen him I believe I was six. My father was in your prison hospital, I am not sure why I was told it was his heart.
    I would send him my Sunday School papers, every Monday. At that age I don’t think I really knew what a prison was. Mama just said daddy had done something that he was a shamed of.
    I do remember the day he hugged me and kissed me, and he was crying, that scared me I had never see my daddy cry. My dad was 6’6″ and around 180lbs, I could stand on his feet and hold on to his belt and we would dance.
    I remember him walking across the Chana Illinois school yard, headed to my Sunday school teacher house, mom told me later in life he told her what he had done and they prayed. Mrs. Grover husband was also the towns policemen, he was taken to Oregon Illinos jail, where he was transported to Iowa.
    We went to visit daddy I had never seen such a huge building in my life, it was like a castle, and we road in a elevator my first time.
    From what I remember from the visit my dad was in a hospital bed, and everything seemed white. I was so happy to see him, I was allowed to climb up on what seemed at that time a huge bed. He showed me that he had gotten all my Sunday School papers, and my papers from school with stars on them.
    He told me he was so proud of me, not something I was to hear offen, I felt so loved with my dad holding me close to him, he whispered in my ear to be a good girl for mama and to always say my prayers. And soon he would see me again, and we would be together forever.
    That was not to happen, we were back in Chana setting outside when a policemen came to the house, mama was setting under the plum tree it was in bloom.
    I remember her opening the letter, and big tears rolling down her face, she told my sister Nellie and she lost it she was 18 at the time. Then mama tried to explan to me what had happen, my heart was broken.
    But I remember what he had whispered to me that he was coming home and we would be together always, I wonder if he knew he was dieing. I do believe one day we will be together again even if he did die in Prison, he was sorry for what he did, he turned himself in, and God called him home.
    I will be 57 in april, its been 50 years since that day I saw him, I never known what he truly died from when I asked a older cousin he said, my dad died of a broken heart. I don’t even know for sure what he did, I was told he did a bid for a job he worked taking care of trees and he took the money and did not do the job.
    If I just had some answers, did he suffer, what did he die from, and what did he truly do, to end up in a State Prison.
    I was in Fort Madison just two weeks ago, we had been in Quency Illinois visting a friend in a VA hospital. When I seen the name of the town, just had to cross over a bridge and there the Castel was again, my heart skipped a beat here was the last place I had seen my father.
    Please if there is anyone that reads this and knows how I could get his death cert. what he had done, and how much time he recieved, I would be so thankful.
    It is truly a beautiful building and tearing it down would be a shame it’s a piece of history 1839, unfortionly it’s a part of my history. My name is Vickie Linn Castell-Nelson, my father was Neal Raymond Castell, he was born March 20 1910–died June 1961 he was buried in Marshalltown Iowa. thank you my email is

  6. not on your life should this be a touring place it needs to be torned down. I was unfortunately a resident of this hell hole for three months over my own ignorance this place is aweful!

  7. As an exinmate of the prsion myself as well as a civilian as a child there in The Fort, I think it woul be a great idea as well to turn it into a touring site. They have spent alot of money for the up keeping of it already it wouldbe pointless to tear such money and history down. I think they should even have like two different rates , !.) Could be for your usual tour and touring guid. Then @.) They should have it where the second rat is for people who want to see what it was like for an inmate. Just like one week amonth they could have a prson pay a flat rate and they could spend like eight hours in the life of an inmate. NO SPECAIL TREATMENT!!!

  8. Peggy Hughes says:

    I am looking for info on my grandfather, Harry James Hughes, 16 July1884-20 Dec 1920, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
    I found his draft registration from 1913 and it states he was a prisoner at Iowa State Prison. I have very little informaion on him. He and my gr-mother apparently separated when my Dad was very young. The draft registration also states that he was nearly blind, which does fit with somer other info I have found. If you still have records from that time frame, I would appreciate anything you might have on him. My Dad never spoke of him, but he was born in 1913, so there was probably no contact. In fact, I don’t remember that anyone ever mentioned him. There was also mentionthat he was in a mental institutionh, but no dates on that.
    Thanks for anything you might have.
    Peggy Hughes THompson

  9. Yes people would pay to go in and see it and there are so many stories I worked there and its a amazing structure.

  10. Nikki Reynolds says:

    Heck no………no one is going to travel to Fort Madison to look at a creepy old prison. I’m sure there are other more interesting historical places to visit!!!

  11. i was a inmate there and let me tell you if walls could talk i mean people this is one hell of a place to see or even be at

  12. Which Prison is “Oldest” This is a claim I found on a flier in Missouri.

    The oldest prison west of the Mississippi closed its doors in 2004, but you can still see long lines of people waiting to enter a hall full of cells. But rather than prisoners returning from mess hall, these are tourists waiting to hear the stories of the prison called by Time Magazine in 193 “the bloodiest 47 acres in America.”

    Anarchist Emma Goldman, gangster Pretty Boy Floyd, and boxer Sonny Liston were all held here in the prison. James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr., about a year after escaping from the prison.

    You can still tour the historic site and one of the old prison halls, and you can choose from a two-hour or four-hour historic tour, a twilight tour, specialty history tours, photography tours and ghost tours.

    The Missouri State Penitentiary was called by its last proper name, the Jefferson City Correctional Center, or JCCC or J Triple C by the last inmates to inhabit it, before they moved to the medium-security Algoa Prison, six miles east.

    The tour includes the gas chamber, used after 1938. Before then, executions were carried out by hanging. Lethal injections were used starting in 1989.

    Here is the story of the prison, in a timeline:

    1832: The legislature authorizes the building of the prison. The bid calls for 23-foot-high walls, three feet thick at the bottom and two feet at the top.

    1836: The prison opens. It’s a wooden stockade on a quarter acre. The first prisoner is convicted of stealing a watch; 18 other prisoners this year are convicted of murder, rape, horse stealing, Negro stealing, counterfeiting, and highway robbery.

  13. I also was an inmate for a few years behind the walls.Definately a beautiful archeticial designed building with lots of history.

  14. tianna oraz says:

    well its funny how those who don’t want the place to be a site of rememberance r those who don’t want to remember it..well of corse u people don’t have to return to that place it was a place to teach u a lesson and not want to return there but yet learn from what put u there also.. we on the other hand have interest in the structure of its body and the hands that built it and the beauty in the way the history was built…we are not interested in the way the inmates get punished or what treatment u may have received during your tym u served but remember to those who have negative vibes in the historical site …u served tym for your mistakes not for the our interest in the history . I say history ROCK ON!!

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