Wyoming Frontier Prison

By Luke Anderson

August 12, 2015

Construction on the Frontier Prison began in 1888, but funding and weather concerns pushed the official opening of Cell Block A to 1901. Due to constant overcrowding concerns, several additions were added. In 1904, 32 more cells were added to the original building. In 1950, an entire new cell block, Cell Block B, relieved the pressure on Cell Block A and featured a much more efficient heating system with hot running water. In 1966, a maximum security block with 36 cells was added for serious discipline cases. 

The Wyoming Frontier Prison is located at 500 West Walnut Street, Rawlins, Wyoming

The Wyoming Frontier Prison stands as testament to Wyoming’s Wild West reputation. About 13,500 people were imprisoned over the history of the prison’s operation. The prison had two methods of execution: indoor gallows, and a gas chamber. The prison performed 14 executions. It wasn’t all gruesome, however. Over its 80 years of operation, the prison produced brooms, shirts, wool, and license plates. After it closed in 1981 and sat abandoned for six years, the mystique of the Frontier Prison was revitalized in the movie Prison starring Viggo Mortensen, which was filmed on site at the prison. In 1988, the prison was acquired by a joint powers board which converted the prison into a museum.

Cell Block A, the oldest portion of the prison, is constructed with unreinforced stone masonry that is capped by a wood framed gable roof. It retains a high level of historic integrity, both culturally and architecturally. The prison’s close connection with Wyoming’s unique history makes it significant both locally and statewide. The prison has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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This project was funded in part by a Historic Architecture Assistance Fund grant, and completed by Myers Anderson Architects in association with KL&A Structural Engineers and Builders. The program is offered by the Alliance for Historic Wyoming in partnership with Wyoming Main Street and the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, and is made possible by a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund.