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The West Virginia State Penitentiary


The West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV, circa 1910The West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV, is the oldest state penal institution and was in continuous use until 1995. 

The state of West Virginia was formed during the years of the Civil War, becoming the 35th state in 1863. At that time the county jails were sued for incarceration of prisoners. Beginning in 1864, the legislature directed Governor Arthur Boreman to have all persons convicted of felonies confined to the Ohio County jail in Wheeling.

An act of the legislature in 1866, directed the Board of Public Works to select a site of not less than 10 acres of land in or near Moundsville and to appoint a board of directors. They appropriated $50,000 to buy land and to begin construction.  The site that was chosen in Moundsville is directly across from the Grave Creek Mound, now a National Historic Landmark (1964) and on the National Register of Historic Places (1966). The Penitentiary was also listed on the NRHP in 1996.  ➤ Read more about the history of from the WV Penitentiary nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places 


WV Penitentiary Resources at OCPL:

*Please note: we do not have any physical records from the Penitentiary. If you are looking for resources on individual prisoner records, please see the resources below for the West Virginia State Archives (Charleston, WV) and West Virginia University (Morgantown). 

Circulating stacks (can be checked out with an OCPL library card):  

— Brake, Sherri, The Haunted History of the West Virginia Penitentiary. Raven Rock,2011. 
Call #: 365.9754 Brak 2011
— Clemens, Jonathon D., West Virginia Penitentiary. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
Call #: 365.9754 Clem 2010
— Plogger, C.J., Pronounced Dead: the Executions at the West Virginia Penitentiary. Middletown, DE: CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2018
Call #: 365.9754 Plog 2018

Wheeling Room (non-circulating materials — must be viewed in the Wheeling Room. Ask for access at the Reference Desk):

Historical material:
Some Elements of Prison Discipline: Address of C.E. Haddox, Warden of the West Virginia Penitentiary, to the National Prison Association, Albany, N.Y., 1906.
Call #: Wheeling 365.643 H117s
Souvenir of the West Virginia Penitentiary, Moundsville, compiled by Work & Hope, the Prison Magazine. (Consists of two editions of Souvenir of the West Virginia Penitentiary, one from ca. 1929, the other ca. 1930. Also contains lists of executions and additional illustrations (from other sources)
Call #: Wheeling 365.975416 So69

Recent works:
➤ Forrester, Harry L., Moundsville Penitentiary: History of the WV Penitentiary, 1866-1995, 2014.
Call #: Wheeling 365.9754 Forr 2014
➤ Larner, John William. Locked in Time: West Virginia Penitentiary. Moundsville, WV: Moundsville Economic Development Council, 2004.
Call #: Wheeling 365.9754 L326L
➤ Larner, John William. West Virginia Penitentiary Cell Wall Markings. Moundsville, WV: Moundsville Economic Development Council, 2004.
Call #: Wheeling 704.0692 L326w
➤ Plogger, C.J., The Tour at the West Virginia Penitentiary, 2017.
Call #: Wheeling 365.9754 Plog 2017
➤ Plogger, C.J. and Jordan Gray, Life at the West Virginia Penitentiary: the Story of Maggie Gray, 2017.
Call #: Wheeling 365.068 Plog 2017

Archives Collections (Non-circulating materials, please call ahead or email to make an appointment to view materials):

➤ William Carney Collection on Wheeling HistoryCollection: Archives 2019-010, Box 17 and 40
Beverly Fluty papers, Collection: Archives 2009-001, Box 11, folder 6


Resources at West Virginia State Archives:

State Government Records:

The State Archives has several collections that may contain information about prisoners.** 
(Click here to see the State Government Records Collections home page)

➤ Collection # AR-1804: Department of Corrections. Penitentiary records, ca. 1935-1953, 143 cu. ft. (see archivist for alphabetical list of prisoners' names for whom the State Archives hold records).
Collection #: AR-1892: Corrections. Penitentiary prisoner records, including fingerprint cards, declaration cards, case files, list of inmate executions, 1953-1983 100 cu. ft.

**Please Note: Privacy laws apply to these records. Staff may check records for information that may have appeared in other sources, such as newspaper accounts. This information includes crime, dates, county, etc., but not internal Corrections' material**

State Archives Photo Collections:

(Click here to view the Photograph Collections home page)
➤ Collection # Ph2021-232: West Virginia State Penitentiary Collection (Photo negatives), ca. 1930s-1950s.  
Series 40: West Virginia Penitentiary records
West Virginia Photos Database

State Archives Manuscript Collections:

(Click here to view the Manuscript Collections home page)
➤ Ms2004- 102: Johnson, Les. "Autobiography of Freeman Collins" (longest-serving inmate at Moundsville Penitentiary) (photocopies), literary mss, 1995. 1 item.
Ms2006-100: Larner, John W. Collection. Information and notes on his research into West Virginia Penitentiary art, 1866-2004. Box 7, Manuscripts, 1 folder.
➤ Ms88-11: Penitentiary. Account of visit to Moundsville prison in 1898 (photocopy), ca. 1900. 1 item.
➤ Ms2004-107: West Virginia Penitentiary. Account of September 1898 visit from Wheeling, written in 1899. 1 item.

Other publications in the State Archives Library:

➤ West Virginia State Documents Database
➤ Other publications related to the Penitentiary: view catalog


Resources at the West Virginia University:

WVU Archives Collections:

Martin Luther Brown, Warden, Penitentiary Records, circa 1910-1920
This collection includes letters from prisoners and approximately 30 digitized photographs of prison grounds and inmates and staff.
Other WVU Archives catalog search results for WV Penitentiary

WVU Library Resources:

Biennial and Annual Reports of the Directors of the Penitentiary at Moundsville, W. Va., 1886-1890, 1890-1892, 1922-1924, 1923, 1926, 1928, 1930-1934, 1933, 1933-1937, 1935, 1936-1939, 1939-1941
*NOTE: Biennial reports from 1900-1908 are available online through HaithiTrust.
Pen Revue, programs from 1938 & 1948. The Pen Revue was an all-inmate staged and produced cast with proceeds donated toward the welfare of the inmate body. 
Work and Hope Magazine, May 1920 August 1926-1931 only. Work and Hope was a publication for inmates,  containing articles written by inmates, and was printed by inmates in the print shop of the Pentiatary. 

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