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Old Idaho Penitentiary, Boise’s Tourist Destination

Are you planning to tour the Idaho area? Well, you should visit Old Idaho Penitentiary when you visit Boise. Whether you are a history enthusiast or not, it is not difficult to see why the Old Idaho Penitentiary is one of Boise’s and the rest of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Founded in 1872, the Old Idaho Penitentiary has been home to some of the worst criminals for the last 101 years. Some of the criminals who served their terms in this famous prison include Jack the Ripper, the man who assassinated Idaho’s fourth governor and a member of the Butch Cassidy’s infamous gang.

This complete guide will take you through everything you need to know about Old Idaho Penitentiary this year.

The History of Old Idaho Penitentiary

The Old Idaho Penitentiary was opened in 1872 and was home to the most notorious criminals until it was closed in 1973 in Boise, Idaho. The Territory of Idaho constructed the first building, Territorial of Idaho, in 1870. This was a massive investment since Idaho had not achieved statehood until 1890. In fact, the territory was seven years old when this building was constructed.

After the Territorial Prison constriction, the penitentiary continued to grow to a complex with multiple sections surrounded by a 5.2m sandstone wall. The territory quarried the stone from the adjacent ridges. The convicts would quarry the stone and later assist in the constructions.

Since the Old Idaho Penitentiary was opened, it was home to more than 13,000 prisoners. It would house about 600 prisoners throughout the year. 215 of the prisoners who were housed in prison were women. Ten prisoners were executed in prison, while 500 prisoners managed to escape from the facility. However, more than 400 of those inmates have been arrested.

Old Idaho Penitentiary is now a property of the Idaho State Historical Society. Visitors have the chance to see the cell books, gallows, and solitary confinement when they visit the old prison. What is more, they can see the rotating exhibits and 30 historic buildings in the Old Idaho Penitentiary. Let us take a closer look at some of the most popular exhibits in the Old Idaho Penitentiary.

The J. Curtis Memorial Exhibit. It is one of the largest collections of weaponry, military memorabilia, and historic arms used by the country during World War. These weapons give you an insight into the Bronze Age weapons and the World Wars.

Faces of the Idaho State Penitentiary. This exhibit will give you a comprehensive insight into the religious prosecutions and discriminations in Idaho. The exhibition will also provide an idea of the diverse background of inmates who were housed there.

Boise Time. A closer look at how Boise was chosen as the perfect spot for a Territorial Prison.

The Most Famous Inmates at the Old Idaho Penitentiary

The Old Idaho Penitentiary is home to criminals responsible for some of the state’s historical moments. These men and women were responsible for some of the most gruesome murders, executions, and bank robberies. About ten prisoners were executed when the prison was still operational. It is believed that the ghosts of the executed inmates still haunt the old pen.

Lyda Southard, one of the country’s first female serial killers. She killed her multiple husbands and family members.

Raymond Allen Snowden was executed in 1950 by hanging for murdering Cora Dean. He killed her after a night of heavy drinking by stabbing her more than 30 times. Snowden bragged about how he had killed multiple women while in prison.

Harry Orchard, responsible for the assassination of Idaho’s fourth governor and the murder of 17 people. His trial was popularly known as the trial of the century after he revealed that his name was Albert E. Horsley. He would later die after 46 years in prison.

Events at the Old Idaho Penitentiary

The Old Idaho Penitentiary hosts several famous activities throughout the year, including:

Frightened Felons. Visitors get the chance to experience the haunted cell house in the old pen.

32 Cell Art Show. Learn the story of the former inmates through the best work of the local artists.

Scavenger Hunts. Have fun solving riddles and clues across the Old Pen Grounds.

Sleepless in Stripes. Sleep in the cells and discover how it was like for the inmates.

Prepare for Your Visit to the Old Pen Today

Before you visit the Old Idaho Penitentiary, it would be best to make sure you are well-prepped. Start by dressing for the weather. Keep your children close as your tour. You can always ask for guided tours. Remember to call ahead to ask about the schedule. Always visit the official website to learn about the current schedule.


The Old Pen is located at 2445 Old Penitentiary Road Boise, ID 83712 on Warm Springs east of Boise. You have to purchase your admission online before arrival. Free parking is provided.

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