Missouri State Penitentiary Walls
Jefferson City, Missouri
The wall surrounding the former Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) is one of the oldest standing architectural structures in Jefferson City. Sections of the wall are estimated to have been built between 1833 and 1835, just prior to the prison’s opening in 1836. Over the years, inmates have carried out maintenance on the walls, rebuilding sections using locally quarried stone. For more than 150 years the wall divided what was essentially two communities operating within Jefferson City — the prison and the city proper. Approximately 20 years ago, reports noted structural issues with the walls and tuckpointing was recommended; however, funding was not available to do the necessary repairs. In May of 2019 an F3 tornado ripped through the Capitol Avenue Historic District, causing a large section of the wall on Capitol Avenue to crumble. Dual ownership of the land by both the State of Missouri and the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau has further complicated fundraising efforts. Adding to the structure’s peril is the threat of redevelopment in the MSP area. While the idea of redevelopment is considered good for the community, there is also support for retaining the penitentiary walls as a reminder of the city’s history. Advocates for the Missouri State Penitentiary Walls hope that listing the property on the Places in Peril will help publicize the threat and prevent the structure’s removal, allowing it to be incorporated into future redevelopment plans.
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