Visiting the Old Idaho Penitentiary

Old Idaho Penitentiary

Jake grew up in Boise, Idaho so we are fortunate enough to visit this beautiful city a few times a year to see family. Home of Boise State University (and the Boise State Broncos football team!) there are a lot of trendy restaurants and things to do here. Some of my favorite memories are of exploring Hyde Park area, shopping in Downtown and taking a helicopter tour to see Christmas lights. I have a new favorite memory to add to that list now.

Old Idaho Penitentiary:

Visiting the Old Idaho Penitentiary will give you a good sense of how things were in the “wild west.” This jail was opened in 1872, before Idaho became a state and was just Idaho Territory. The doors were eventually closed in 1973, after more than 13,000 inmates passed through. We spent a couple hours here and still didn’t see everything. There are multiple cell blocks, a laundry building, women’s ward, dining hall and many other buildings to see. If you are a fan of architecture, history or the wild west then you don’t want to miss this! 


Grounds of the Old Idaho Pen:

The picture directly below was the dining hall, which burned down during a prisoner riot in 1973. It was an unfortunate story, the dining hall was actually designed by an inmate named George Hamilton. He got released from prison and committed suicide the next day.

Dining Hall, Old Idaho Penitentiary



Solitary Confinement (AKA Siberia)

These tiny 3×8 foot cells are where you would go when you had been exceptionally bad, such as assaulting a guard or fellow inmate or throwing their chamber pot at a guard. The rooms were dark, cold and hardly long enough for man to lay down in. Time served in Siberia varied from a few days up to 1 year. The eerie note below was left behind by inmate Butch Jones.

A note left by one prisioner

siberia, old idaho penitentiary

Inside the Cell Blocks 

Cell house #2 was partially burned during the 1973 riot, but the bright blue paint still shown through and made it kind of eerily cool looking. There was also a freaky mask that was still up from Halloween that scared the crap out of us!

old idaho penitentiary

Cell House #4 (1952) was one of the more modern buildings, and looked very 1970s in the decor/colors.

Old Idaho Penitentiary

Old Idaho Penitentiary


Death Row and the Gallows

The one and only man executed here happened in 1958. The method of execution changed to lethal injection in 1978. Even though only one man met his fate here it was kind of unsettling seeing the death row cells and the gallows.

death penalty idaho


Stuff to Know: 

  • It is located at: 2445 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise, ID 83712
  • Cost: $5 adult, $4 seniors, $3 children (no Veteran Discount)
  • Plan to spend: 1-2 hours
  • There is also the J. Curtis Earl Memorial going on at this time in one building. It has an excellent weapons exhibit which we spent at least 30 min exploring
  • For more info, including hours and special events check out this link
  • Recommendation: Consider checking out the Idaho Botanical Garden or hiking to Table Rock while you’re in the area

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