The Old Classic Collection
from the
Photo History Archive
Anamosa State Penitentiary
(formerly the Iowa Men's Reformatory)
Anamosa, Iowa,USA

The following 62 photos represent the oldest known images of the prison at Anamosa, Iowa. This facility, established in 1872, is of the classic stone-fortress type construction typical for prisons of the day. For its first 35 years of existence, the institution served as a state penitentiary to supplement the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, Iowa's first adult prison. In 1907, the Anamosa Penitentiary became the Reformatory, in keeping with a nation-wide move toward prison reform. Ninety years later, we have become a penitentiary once again, in keeping with the changing times in corrections in Iowa and the nation. Regardless of the name it bears at any given moment, the prison at Anamosa has now stood for 133 years, a fortress in stone, the "White Palace of the West", an imposing reminder on the Midwestern prairie that social order must be maintained, and it's violation must be punished for the larger good of all.

Although the photos below will be far more meaningful for persons familiar with the Penitentiary, they can be viewed, in a sense, as representative of any American prison of the pre-1900 era. The emphasis in the early days was clearly on social and personal deterrence. Austere living conditions, exacting discipline, and strict obedience to the rules were the hallmarks of the American penitentiary system. Even so, from the earliest days, there were efforts to "reach" the prisoners' hearts and souls in an effort to effect positive and lasting personal change. By 1900, these efforts were fairly institutionalized, culminating in the major philosophical change evidenced by the name change in 1907.

These photos were culled from a much-larger collection of 1200 images of the Penitentiary and her staff, that were cataloged and preserved on CD-ROM as part of a historical preservation effort.

Some final notes: each image below is around 30K in size, and will take a few moments to load in your browser. Your patience will be rewarded! Additionally, please don't be offended by the terminology used below, i.e. "Insane Ward (or Department)". This was the actual name of the structure adjacent to and part of the prison, which was designed to hold criminally insane inmates. Also, the term "convict" was the accepted reference to inmates at that time. And lastly, your comments about the site would be greatly appreciated! Take a moment and let me know what you think.




This is a prison HISTORY site - information about current inmates is NOT AVAILABLE! Go to the Iowa DOC site instead.