For 150 years, the Ohio Penitentiary stood as the first state building erected in the state’s capital, 10TV’s Tracy Townsend reported on Friday.
The building was built by those who would live there. Convicts were used to build the building, the state house and many Columbus roads.
Bonnie Chandler, head of genealogy and history at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, said that the building housed a lot of firsts for the state of Ohio, including the state’s death row and first electric chair.
Chandler said the penitentiary also had its share of problems.
“A lot of tragedy went into the Ohio Penitentiary,” Chandler said.
A disease outbreak killed a quarter of the facility’s population in 1849, and a fire raged through the penitentiary years later killing 300 inmates, Townsend reported.
Chandler said the fire was considered one of the worst penitentiary fires in the United States. Some inmates died locked in their cells.
During the 1950s and 1960s, a number of riots raged through the facility, and guards were even held hostage in a 1968 riot that resulted in a dramatic rescue, Chandler said.
“The head of the Highway Patrol blasted through the ceiling and the sides in order to get to the guards,” Chandler said. “They were all rescued successfully.”
By the 1980s, the facility was falling apart.
“After the last prisoners were removed from the prison in 1984, there was a lot of discussion about what we were going to do with the Ohio Penitentiary,” Chandler said. “They had talked about turning it into an amusement park, having tours of the penitentiary. But it was decided that this should be an area that should have housing, entertainment. There was a real vision of this area that didn’t include the penitentiary.”
Now, the site where the building sat houses Nationwide Arena, Huntington Park and a number of restaurants and theaters, Townsend reported.
“It’s completely different,” Chandler said. “Families come down here all the time. It’s a real attraction.”
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