The Utah State Prison

The Utah State Prison

This article originally appeared in Vol.1 No.6-7 (1936-37) of Pioneer Magazine

The prison grounds are bounded on the north by 21st South Street; on the South by Parkway Avenue, and cover nearly all the space between 13th and 16th East Streets, and contain about 184 acres. This property was originally the Ira Eldredge Farm, which he acquired in 1852.

Utah State Penitentiary, Sugarhouse circa 1903

On July 16, 1894 this land and buildings were granted to the State of Utah by President . The United States Government had spent about $300,000.00 on buildings and improvements consisting of a cell house which contained 240 cells, to accomodate 500 prisoners, surrounded by an adobe wall 20 ft high, 4 adobes thick. 78 acres of land were under cultivation. The cost of operating for one year (1895) with 189 convicts was $40,189.00.

In 1856 or 1857 the Prison was built by the U, S. Government and known as the Federal Prison. The U. S. Marshal appointed one of his deputies to act as warden. The building at first was very small, and consisted of block houses with movable steel cages. Improvements have been gradually added, new cell houses in 1887 and 1890, an administration building in about 1890; the wall enlarged and extended east in 1910; new cell houses later added, together with a dining room, kitchen, bakery, laundry, bath house, chapel, woman’s ward, workshops, enlarged administration building, farm house and all buildings necessary for welfare of the inmates.

Water from the irrigation ditch was first used for culinary purposes until the spring of 1898, Water was pumped from the stream by hand, using four prisoners at a time with shifts every two hours.  The water was stored in the attic of the cell house in large tanks which furnished pressure sufficient to carry the water to various parts of the building.  Water from Parleys Creek was also used for irrigating the prison farm, and also for operating a tannery owned and operated by Ira Eldredge.

Governor Heber M. Wells

Governor Heber M. Wells appointed the first Board of Control of the prison in 1896 and also appointed G, N, Don as the first warden. The name Federal Prison was changed to the Utah State Prison. Mr. Don, who died February, 1904, was succeeded by Arthur Pratt, who acted as warden until April 1, 1917, and was succeeded by Warden George A. Storrs. In March, 1921, James Devine was_ appointed and served as warden until May, 1925, when the present warden, R. E. Davis, succeeded Warden Devine.

The prison today is being operated on a systematic basis. There are about 330 inmates. Improvements have been made by the various wardens as far as opportunity and means would allow until it compares favorably with other prisons under similar conditions and surroundings.

Warden Davis is keenly appreciative of the modern conception of a prison. Under serious handicaps he has, so far as financially able, conducted Utah’s State Prison in a creditable and efficient manner.

The warden believes that the prison should be moved to a more favorable location, and a new modern plant built at which inmates could be trained to fit in community affairs upon their release.

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