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West Virginia State Penitentiary - Moundsville

After West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1863, the new state had to quickly address the need for public institutions. In 1866, an act of the state legislature directed the purchase of a plot of land in Moundsville for the state penitentiary. Moundsville was chosen as the site due to its proximity to the then-state capitol in Wheeling.

The North Wagon Gate was the first building of the complex to be constructed. It served as living quarters for the 150 inmates who worked to construct the state's second oldest public building. The hand-cut sandstone used to build the walls was quarried nearby.

The first execution at the Penitentiary took place in 1899 when the state took over the responsibility from the counties. During the history of the prison, a total of 94 men were executed. From 1899-1949, eighty-five men were hung, and, from 1951-1959, nine men were electrocuted.
In 1929, a massive expansion to double the size of the Penitentiary began. The New Wall construction was not completed until 1959 due to steel shortage during World War II. The construction eased the overcrowding that had caused the need for triple bunking in the prison's 5 x 7 foot cells. As with the prison's first phase of construction, the use of inmate labor helped to defray the cost of construction.

The last execution by hanging in the State of West Virginia took place in 1949. In 1951 the State began using an electric chair that had been built by an inmate for executions. Until the state abolished the death penalty in 1959, nine men had been sent to their death by electrocution. The original electric chair is now on display in the facility and is part of the tour that visitors see while at the prison.
The final years of the West Virginia Pen were by marked by many disturbances including riots and escapes. The West Virginia State Penitentiary is well known for its violent history. During its 120 year history there
were two full blown riots, 94 executions and unimaginably deplorable conditions. For most of the years in
operation Moundsville maintained a position on the Department of Justice's top ten most violent correctional
facilities list. The prisoners had a common mentality of kill or be killed, which made the prison a "hot-bed" of
violent behavior. Housed in Moundsville walls were the worst of the worst of criminals, which included many
"lifers" who had nothing left to lose when it came to killing.


The prison population peaked in early 1960's with a total of 2,000 but as new prisons were built, by the time the facility closed, the population had decreased to 600-700.

In 1986, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the Penitentiary's 5 x 7 cells were cruel and unusual punishment. The Penitentiary closed its doors in 1995, and the majority of the inmates were moved to the new Mt. Olive Correctional Complex in Mt. Olive, West Virginia. A smaller complex consisting of a correctional facility and regional jail was constructed in Moundsville.

Upon the closing of the Penitentiary, the Moundsville Economic Development Council obtained a 25-year lease on the facility. The facility has been named to the National Register of Historic Places and is utilized for historical and educational tours and the National Corrections and Law Enforcement Training and Technology Center.
Moundsville Penitentiary has been the focus of a television reality show, numerous investigations, and a documentary on the hauntings that occur throughout the prison. IN 2000, MTV's Fear shot an episode at the penitentiary. Six young people were each asked to perform a series of dares, which ranged from pulling a cloth from an electric chair to staying in a section of the prison reputed to be haunted in complete darkness for fifteen minutes. Each individual who successfully completed the assigned tasks were given $3,000. By the time the show was over, two of the six participants had decided to quit. Each member claimed to have felt a "presence" and at least one claimed to have had contact with the "spirits of the dead" while completing their respective assignments. Not only has MTV'S Fear opted to dedicate an episode to Moundsville Penitentiary, but several professional paranormal organizations have conducted full-scale investigations, with some amazing results. Many of these organizations and individuals who have visited the site have not been disappointed. Anomalies ranging from simple orbs to spectral faces have been photographed on these ghost hunts. People have come from as far away as Alabama and New York specifically to take part in the ghost hunt and prison tour.
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