Gem State Roundup

Have photos of Boise’s Old Penitentiary? They’re needed for this Idaho State Historical Society project.

By: - October 17, 2022 4:05 am
Boise Idaho Old Penitentiary

From 1872 to 1973, the Old Penitentiary in Boise was operated as a territorial prison and state penitentiary after Idaho’s 1890 statehood. (Courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society)

The Old Penitentiary, the historic Idaho prison in Boise, is launching a crowdsourcing initiative to collect photographs from the public that depict the prison’s history and can help play a role in a multi-year project, according to a press release from the Idaho State Historical Society. 

Items of interest include images taken at the penitentiary and other sites, including prison farms, quarries or personal photos of those instrumental in the site’s story from its inception and construction. Images of the people who lived, worked and served time there are also of interest, according to the release. 

The Idaho State Historical Society is embarking on a multi-year plan to “reimagine” the historic interpretation and visitor experience at the Old Idaho Penitentiary, according to the release, and research staff is working to uncover new resources to tell the complete story of corrections in Idaho. Only a few photos that tell the site’s original history are available of the Old Penitentiary despite its 101 years in operation, the press release said.

The Idaho State Archives, a division of the Idaho State Historical Society, is the official repository for the mugshots of those incarcerated at the prison and a collection of photos taken behind prison walls. Staff at the Old Idaho Penitentiary are hopeful that other historic photographs exist in private collections of those whose lives intersected with the prison.

Contributions of historic photographs have enhanced programs and exhibits at the Old Idaho Penitentiary since becoming a historic site in 1974, the release said. In 2019, a visitor researching genealogy shared photos of their great-grandfather, Nathaniel Gardner, who served a year for grand larceny in the 1920s for stealing a saddle. A photo taken outside the prison walls captured the joy and hope he felt as he left the prison for the last time. 

“Preserving and sharing photographs like Nathaniel’s provides a glimpse into the past and captures emotions that prison files and mugshots cannot,” Interim Historic Sites Administrator Anthony Parry said in the release.

Those interested in sharing or donating photos should schedule an appointment between noon and 5 p.m. for Oct. 21 or Oct. 22. Set up an appointment by emailing [email protected] or calling 208-334-2844.

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Christina Lords
Christina Lords

Christina Lords is the editor-in-chief of the Idaho Capital Sun and has been a professional journalist covering local and state government since graduating from the University of Idaho in 2009. A Pocatello native, Lords is a fifth-generation Idahoan who served as a reporter at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and the Post Register in Idaho Falls and served as assistant editor for the Idaho Press in Nampa. She also led the Idaho Statesman in Boise for two years before turning to nonprofit journalism.

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