The Old Idaho State Penitentiary is such a cool piece of history in the middle of Boise. Even though I lived in Boise for the majority of my life, I had never actually been to the Idaho Penitentiary — until now. The Old Idaho Penitentiary was the state prison in Idaho for more than 100 years, but is now a museum of its history. It is now one of my favorite things to do in Boise.
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Opened in 1872, the Old Idaho State Penitentiary was a functional prison until it was closed in 1973. The first building, the Territorial Prison, was built in 1870 — which is impressive because Idaho was not made a state until 1890.
A little more than 600 prisoners were able to be housed in the prison at any time. In its 101 years, there were 13,000 prisoners through the Old Idaho Penitentiary, 215 of them being women. Ten people were executed at the penitentiary.
There were more than 500 escapes from the Old Idaho Penitentiary, although only 90 of those inmates remained at large after their escape.
The prison is now owned and operated by the Idaho State Historical Society. When you visit, you can see Solitary Confinement, cell blocks, and the gallows. There are also 30 historic buildings and special rotating exhibits, including the J. Curtis Early Memorial Exhibit, which is a collection of weaponry throughout history. The weapons range from Bronze Age to modern day. The collection was donated in 1999 to the state of Idaho.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary also holds dozens of events throughout the year, including Ghost Tours, yoga in the yard, fundraisers, and field trips.
In 1973, the Old Idaho Penitentiary was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary is open seven days a week except for any major state holidays.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary is open seven days a week: Noon to 5 p.m.
Summer Hours (Memorial Day-Labor Day): 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Last admission is at 4:15 p.m.
Admission fees for the Old Idaho Penitentiary are $6 for adults (13 years and older), $4 for seniors (60+), and $3 for children (6-12 years old).
You can do a self-guided tour any time the Old Idaho Penitentiary is open. Guided tours are available starting in summer 2019 on a first-come, first-serve basis:
Saturday and Sunday: 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30.
Many groups and visitors have claimed that the Old Idaho Penitentiary is haunted. Idaho paranormal group Boise Ghost Hunters, as well as the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” and a number of other groups have conducted investigations.
According to the Old Idaho Penitentiary website, “Some, including ‘Ghost Adventures,’ have captured strange/unexplainable images on their cameras. Others claim to hear voices or be physically touched, or sense a ‘heaviness’ or ‘strange feelings’ when visiting the site, specifically in Siberia (solitary confinement cells) and the Gallows Room in the Maximum Security cell house. We continue to leave it to the individual to decide for themselves whether this is a ‘haunted’ site or not.”
Although you can believe what you want about the penitentiary, there were more than 100 deaths at the site during its operation. Although I find the outdoor courtyards pleasant, the first time I visited I got a weird feeling while visiting the cells — like I immediately knew I wanted to leave the area.