Western State Penitentiary is a former Pennsylvania state prison, originally constructed between 1878 and 1893 on the east banks of the Ohio River.
The facility has been closed since 2017, but due to a documentation project undertaken by the PA State Historic Preservation Office with the support of the Department of General Services, you can see inside this massive complex, and hear the history and significance of the prison.
Learn how at the time of its completion, it was the most expensive and modern prison in the world. Led by Edward S. Wright, the institution became a leader in penology during the late 19th century. The 22-acre site includes the historic Warden’s Residence and, behind the 25-foot walls, an auditorium, power plant, industrial shop buildings, dining hall, a library/chapel, a health services building, an administration building and inmate housing.
Elizabeth Rairigh is the Preservation Services Division Chief at the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office. Prior to joining the SHPO, she served as Historic Preservation Planner for a regional planning agency in Massachusetts, and a consultant with KSK Architects Planners Historians, Inc., in Philadelphia. Ms. Rairigh has an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and Masters degrees in City Planning and Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.