Get a Close-up Look at the "Big House"
Take The Famous Jefferson City Prison Tour
A visit to Jefferson City, Missouri, isn’t complete until you tour the original, 1836 Missouri State Penitentiary, located seven blocks east of the Capitol. In 1967, the “Missouri State Pen” was named the “bloodiest 47 acres in America” by Time magazine.
Step Into History on Prison Tours
Long before prison tours were offered, this wasn’t a place you wanted to be. When this prison opened in 1836, the Battle of the Alamo was going on in Texas and Andrew Jackson was in his second term as president. The Missouri prison had already been housing convicts for 100 years when Alcatraz began taking inmates. Before it closed in 2004, Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) was the oldest continually operating penitentiary west of the Mississippi River.
The Missouri State Pen was decommissioned in 2004; all inmates were transferred to more modern facilities. The administration building was demolished to make room for a new federal courthouse.
Aspects of the Jefferson City Prison Tour
Some of the older sections of the State Pen are open to the public for tours, operated by the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). Tour guides are past corrections offers or guards who worked within the walls of MSP. On occasion, a past inmate may be on the tour, recounting what is was like to serve time there. The MSP is considered by many to be one of Missouri’s most haunted attractions, so you may see something unusual. Prison related gifts and souvenirs are available.
The tours showcase the history of MSP as well as the early penal eras in the United States. Tours may include:
Prison tours might allow you to visit cells of famous inmates such as heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and James Earl Ray (who escaped from MSP and eventually assassinated Martin Luther King Jr).
- The control center
- The upper yard
- Cellblocks in Housing Unit A (the oldest remaining cellblock on the grounds; built in 1868)
- The dungeon cells beneath A-Hall
- Other housing facilities and cells
- The exercise yard
- The gas chamber (40 inmates, men and women, were executed. A few double executions were carried out.)
For available tour times, tour details and schedules, go to MissouriPenTours.com. Reservations for scheduled tours (they fill-up quickly, so plan ahead) can be made on the website and by contacting the CVB’s prison tour department at 866-998-6998. Reservations are required for all tours. Every person on the tour must have a reservation.
What You Need to Know About MSP Prison Tours
Because of the nature and subject of the tours, no children younger than 10 are permitted. Photographs are allowed, but no video may be taken. No smoking. No food allowed. Because of the age of the facility, these tours are not wheelchair accessible. All attendees must sign a waiver of liability. Persons younger than 18 must have guardian’s signature. Wavers can be printed from the website shown above.
This attraction reserves the right to refuse admission to anyone. You may experience low visibility, damp or wet conditions, uneven ground, stairs and extreme temperatures during the Jefferson City prison tour.
You should not enter if you suffer from asthma, heart conditions, are prone to seizures, have physical ailments or any type of condition that prohibits you from walking or standing. Do not enter this attraction if you are intoxicated, wearing any form of cast, medical brace, are using crutches or a wheelchair, or have any type of physical limitations.
In addition to the tours listed below, special and group tours may be arraigned by contacting the CVB well in advance. Tour buses are welcome if scheduled in advance.
- Standard Tours: Two-hour tour and an In-depth three-hour tour.
- Special Tours: Twilight Tour – the two-hour tour, at night. Lanterns provided.
- Photography Sessions: A brief guided tour followed by a guide-led, open photography session.
- Ghost Hunting Tours: Hear about the history and strange occurrences, and check out unusual activity in MSP.
- Twilight Ghost Tours: Explore MSP at night and learn the history of strange and unusual occurrences.
- Open Paranormal Investigations: Start with the standard tour, and then spend the night at MSP to investigate paranormal activity.
- Private Paranormal Investigations (maximum of 16 people). This group tour is the same as the open paranormal investigation, but is designed for organized paranormal investigation teams.