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2445 Old Penitentiary Road
Boise, ID 83712
Directions: From the intersection of Broadway and Warm Springs Avenue, travel east on Warm Springs for about 1.5 miles then turn left onto Old Penitentiary Road. Please call 208 334-2844 if you have questions.

Old Penitentiary

History and Research

Idaho Territory was less than ten years old when the territorial prison was built east of Boise in 1870. The penitentiary grew from a single cellhouse into a complex of several distinctive buildings surrounded by a high sandstone wall. Convicts quarried the stone from the nearby ridges and completed most of the later construction.

Over its century of operation, the penitentiary received more than 13,000 convicts, of whom 215 were women. Spurred in part by conditions that sparked a general riot in 1971 and an even more severe riot in 1973, the inmate population was moved to a modern penitentiary south of Boise and the Old Idaho Penitentiary was closed on December 3, 1973. After the Penitentiary closed in 1973, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Begin your visit with our video presentation recalling prison history, notorious inmates, and daily prison life. Once inside the Yard, imagine life in the foreboding sandstone cellhouses, see the contrasting beauty of the historic rose gardens, and view the effects of the 1973 riot. Visit Solitary Confinement, known as “Siberia,” as well as Death Row and the Gallows. Exhibits are located throughout the site. Wear comfortable shoes and dress for the day’s weather.

RESEARCH: To find prisoner files for a particular Old Pen inmate, please visit  our Inmate Catalog and Index!

Special Exhibits

Also available at the Old Idaho Penitentiary…

See the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit. From Bronze Age artifacts to 15th and 16th century swords, from 500 year old firearms to modern automatic weapons, this exhibit shares the story of arms and their relationship to events throughout history.

Browse through the History of Idaho Transportation Exhibit and see historic wagons, a hearse, a Basque sheeherder wagon and the unique Merci Train, a gift from the people of France after World War I.

Our interpreters will share stories of notorious prisoners, escapes, and prison life. Your students will hear how inmates quarried the stone and built the prison themselves, and they will gain an understanding of the Penitentiary’s place in Idaho history.