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“Up the River”

Wyoming Frontier Prison
Ranked #1 of 9 things to do in Rawlins
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Owner description: The eighty year history of Wyoming’s first state penitentiary, now known as the Wyoming Frontier Prison, is as colorful and elaborate as the plot of a classic western movie. The cornerstone of the prison was laid in 1888, but due to funding issues and Wyoming’s notorious weather, the doors wouldn’t open for thirteen years. In December of 1901, the prison opened and consisted of 104 cells (Cell Block A), no electricity or running water, and very inadequate heating. Throughout the prison’s operation, approximately 13,500 people were incarcerated, including eleven women. Overcrowding was an almost constant concern, and the first of several additions to the penitentiary was completed in 1904, adding 32 cells to the west end of the original cell block (Cell Block A). Women were housed in the prison until 1909, until the last woman was transferred to Colorado. The addition of the second cell block (Cell Block B) in 1950 temporarily relieved the overcrowding, and also included solitary confinement cells, a much more efficient heating system, and hot running water which wouldn’t be installed in the original cell block for another twenty-eight years. A maximum security addition (Cell Block C) was completed in 1966, but the addition only included thirty-six cells and was reserved for serious discipline cases. The prison was equipped with several different means of disciplining inmates throughout its operation, including a dungeon, several variations of solitary confinement and a “punishment pole” to which men were handcuffed and whipped with rubber hoses. The prison also used different execution methods.. The first two executions were carried out using the “traveling” Julien Gallows which were used to hang Tom Horn in Cheyenne in 1903. In 1916, the penitentiary completed the addition of a “death house” which consisted of six cells to house inmates on death row, and a unique indoor version of the Julien Gallows. The building also housed the gas chamber when it was chosen to replace hanging as Wyoming’s execution method of choice in 1936. Ultimately 14 death sentences were carried out; nine men were hanged, and five were executed in the gas chamber by the use of hydrocyanic acid gas. The Wyoming Frontier Prison is a remnant of the grizzly past of the old west, but not every aspect of prison life was so off-putting. Over the 80-year operation, the prison produced goods to meet demands of four major industries. From 1901 through 1917 the prison had a broom factory, but inmates burned it down during a riot. The factory was rebuilt and operated as a shirt factory which brought in twice the revenue to the state. In 1934, a federal law was passed to prohibit the sale and transportation of prison manufactured goods from one state to another, which resulted in the loss of significant revenue when the factory closed. In 1935, the factory began operating as a woolen mill which won the “Navy E” in 1942 for the superior quality blankets produced by the prison for the military during World War II. In 1949 the prison changed production one last time, producing license plates until the penitentiary closed in 1981. After serving the state for eighty years, the prison closed its doors, and sat abandoned until 1987 when a low budget movie titled “Prison” was filmed on location. The movie was one of Viggo Mortensen’s first and featured several other well known actors. Significant damage was done to the prison grounds during filming because it had yet to be considered a historic site. In 1988, a joint powers board assumed ownership of the penitentiary, dubbed it The Wyoming Frontier Prison, and established it as a museum. The Wyoming Frontier Prison has since been listed on The National Registry of Historic Places, and offers tours to approximately 15,000 visitors annually.
New Gloucester, Maine
Level 6 Contributor
115 reviews
25 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 50 helpful votes
“Up the River”
Reviewed 9 October 2013 via mobile

Spent a delightful afternoon at the prison, tour guide was great and had a lot of great stories to tell us. We went through with a school group and they were well behaved, attentive, and got a lot out of the visit. The buildings are in pretty good shape, and after a stay I believe most would have never wanted to return. The wardens house is on the corner, vacant and worth a walk by when you visit. Our guide said it was built with some asbestos and no one seemed interested in rehabilitating it. Its nice that they did not just tear it down, when they ceased using it.

Visited October 2013
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4 Thank Sabbathday
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Prescott, Arizona
Level 6 Contributor
162 reviews
25 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 61 helpful votes
“Very interesting visit”
Reviewed 5 October 2013

The lady that conducted the tour was very knowledgeable and gave an excellent presentation. Interesting insight into a prison during earlier days. Apparently a movie was made there and the movie company did damage to some structures and paid them nothing. They need some local professional help as this could be an excellent tourist attraction for this town. Gift shop is unattractive.

Visited September 2013
Helpful?
1 Thank PaulL227
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Manchester
Level 6 Contributor
237 reviews
79 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 121 helpful votes
“Extremely interesting tour”
Reviewed 24 September 2013 via mobile

This place doesn't look terribly interesting, but we spent a good 40 minutes in the museum mainly reading lots of background info concerning escapes, interesting prisoners and an innovative method of execution. We the took the hour long tour, led by Taylor. She said she was quite new to the job of tour guide but she certainly was very good at it. The tour began with a demonstration of the science behind the hanging method used. It had looked like a Heath Robinson effort but was very effective. The prison itself was very grim, as it had closed in the eighties, it had been neglected for many years which added to the grimness. We learnt a lot and it was very good value at $8 per person.

Visited September 2013
Helpful?
1 Thank MargaretJay
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Folsom, Louisiana
Level 4 Contributor
39 reviews
30 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 29 helpful votes
“Worth the Stop and VERY Interesting!”
Reviewed 24 September 2013

This was once a working prison form the 1800's til it closed in 1981.
You can tour the prison and you have a tour guide with you. She is very knowledgeable about this prison and its past. She takes you throughout the entire prison and leaves no stone unturned. She tells the whole story from when prisoners arrive, are held there, and all things in between. You get to see the room where they used to hang the prisoners and they also have a gas chamber.
We were very amazed at the things we learned and how things once was within those prison walls.
They only do 2 tours a day after Labor Day and then sometime after that they close for winter. Call ahead. This tour is very well worth a visit if you are nearby the area!! Have cash, they don't take credit cards.

Visited September 2013
Helpful?
1 Thank rusurucan
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
New York
1 review
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
“Excellent”
Reviewed 23 September 2013

Highly recommend... It is worth to good. 8 dollars is fair price. Good place to stop by if traveling or on a road trip. Good place to stop when on your way to Yellowstone.

Visited September 2013
Helpful?
1 Thank BYCM01
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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