The West Virginia State Penitentiary

From History of The Pan Handle, 1879

Submitted by Marguerite Howard.

     The West Virginia Penitentiary is located in Moundsville, and is one of the finest and most imposing structures in the state. In architecture, magnificent. It is built of gray sandstone, shipped from Grafton, Wheeling and Steubenville.
     In the month of July, 1866, they commenced the erection of this building. The warden's apartment is 70x70 feet and five stories high, including the basement. To this is added wings, or cell buildings, the dimensions of which are 180x50 feet each. The south wing contains 224 cells. These cells are seven feet long, seven feet high and four feet wide. Each one has a separate ventilator. There will be 448 cells when the prison is completed. Ten acres of ground belongs to this institution, and five are enclosed with a stone wall four feet in thickness at the base and two at the top, where it is mounted with brackets and coping, making the entire wall twenty- four feet high. On each of the four corners of the wall is a round tower in which are stationed guards, who from their lofty positions can see all that passes within the enclosure below.
     The warden's building is also surmounted on each front corner by round towers.
     The present workshops consist of two brick buildings 240x40 feet, and two stories high. The other one is 215x40 feet, one story, and is used as an engine and boiler room, and blacksmith shop.
     There is a reservoir located in the center of the yard, whose capacity is estimated at 30,000 gallons.
     The water to supply the building is forced from the Ohio river, a distance of 3,000 feet, at the rate of 8,000 gallons per hour.
     The number of convicts at present confined is 251.
     The state expended in the erection of this institution, for labor and material, $363,061.15.
     The present officers of the penitentiary are the following named persons:
President---Joseph W. Gallaher.
Superintendent---Joseph M. Bridges.
Directors---J. K. Smith, of Taylor county; Thomas Smith of Wood county; Nathan Goff, of Harrison county; Andrew Wilson of Ohio county.
Clerk---Frank W. Brown.

  • Old WV Penitentiary - Jim Wiley
  • 8th Street Wagon Gate - Carol Hassig
  • Electric Chair - Carol Hassig
  • Administration Bldg. - Carol Hassig
  • Inmate Wall Paintings - Carol Hassig
  • Mound Builders - Carol Hassig
  • Hanging at Wagon Gate - Blaine Standiford
  • Notes courtesy of JOSEPH FREY:

    Picture #1 - West Virginia Penitentiary
    Frontal view of the old West Virginia Penitentiary, which began construction in 1866, with the old section being completed in 1929. The "New Wall" section began in 1929 and was completed in 1959 with several modifications through the years.

    Picture #2 - Wagon Gate
    This is the original starting point for the West Virginia Penitentiary, completed in Sept. 1866. The Wagon Gate housed 100 convicts, used in the construction of the rest of the prison.

    Picture #3 - Electric Chair
    The electric chair was constructed in 1950 when legislature declared hanging was un- constitutional (cruel and unusual punishment). This electric chair, named "Old Sparky," was modeled after the one used at the old Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. Nine men died in "Old Sparky" from 1951 - 1959.

    Picture #4 - Administration Building
    Construction began on this building in 1869 and was completed in 1876. The old wood floor was replaced with the current tile floor in 1886. The Administration Building was 70' by 70' and 4 stories high. The "Wheel" was installed in 1894. The Adminisration Building held the various offices needed to operate the prison.

    Picture #5 - Inmate Paintings
    These paintings were done by an individual from Wood County who was given the job as prison artist. This particular scene was done in 2 weeks. The artist was color- blind and was assisted by another convict who mixed the colors for him.

    Picture #6 - This scene was modeled after the Adena Indian tribe who built the Burial Mound across the street from the Prison.

    Picture #7 - Hanging
    Public hangings took place in the North Wagon Gate until a decapitation execution in 1931. Then the hangings were done inside a building called "The Annex". A total of 85 hangings took place at the West Virginia Penitentiary from 1899 - 1949.

    West Virginia Penitentiary Home Page