The original concept for the prison was to create a fresh air and hard farm work atmosphere away from the city that would encourage prisoner reform. Sad to say this utopian idea didn't work. However some of the first prisoners created and fired the bricks that built these buildings here and operated a large dairy that provided milk to D.C. residents. Then in 1917 close to 200 women were incarcerated here because they were women suffragists protesting the U.S. government for the right to vote. The work of these women led to the passing of the 19'th Amendment in 1920.
After the 1920's the prison concept changed and the place became basically a lockup facility for all the bad guys in D.C. The prison grew and grew and by the mid fifties the prison had more than 7000 inmates and over 2400 acres. Famous entertainers came to the prison to entertain the prisoners. Probably the most famous entertainer to come to Lorton Prison was Frank Sinatra. In the meantime the farms and forest around the prison were rapidly disappearing.
By the early 1990's the prison was truly deteriorating and the neighboring farm land and forest was quickly being transformed into home developments, shopping centers and schools. Prison escapes were an additional problem for the Fairfax County Government so Senator John Warner of Virginia introduced legislation in Congress that required the closing of the prison and the transfer of all the prisoners to other prisons across the United States. In 2002 the last inmates left, the land was given to Fairfax County and a plan was developed to turn the prison into an Arts Center.
The current idea is to turn Lorton Prison into an arts center and entertainment complex. The arts center will be a bigger and better version of the Old Torpeado Factory Arts Center in Alexandria and the entertainment complex will be an updated version of the mid century Wolf Trap Center For The Performing Arts.
So this week Lorton Prison opened its workhouse doors to the public to celebrate the grand opening of the first section of the Lorton Arts Center. We were pleasently impressed with all the artists already working at the center and the art classes that are being offered to the general public. In the above photo Jack is observing an artist working in glass mosaics to create a work of art. Below is an oil painting that an artist has just completed.
I hope you like looking at art because I took lots and lots of photos that I will be share with you in the coming days.