CAÑON CITY, Colo. — A visit to the Royal Gorge Region would not be complete without passing by or “doing some time” at a correctional facility. The city has the only prison museum in the state. The building itself was once a prison and currently shares a wall with an active prison.

The Museum of Colorado Prisons showcases exhibits of inmates, artifacts, and staff through the years. The building itself is a historical cell house that was the original Women’s Correctional Facility.

“It was built specifically to finally separate the women from the men, it was active from 1935 all the way up until 1968 for the women,” Museum of Colorado Prisons Director Stacey Cline said. “They didn’t view women as true criminals. They thought if a woman had committed a crime there was something either mentally or emotionally wrong with her.”

There are 11 correctional facilities in Cañon City, seven state and four federal prisons.

“When it was time to build the next prison, instead of searching throughout Colorado on where to place it, they put it on land that they were already using, they are were already farming on, they were already utilizing. So they didn’t have counties or cities pitting against each other trying to get the new prison,” Cline explained.

Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility is the oldest prison in Colorado. The prison opened in 1871 as a territorial prison and became a state prison in 1876. It also shares a wall with the prison museum.

“We’ve never been out this way, we seen (sic) it and I thought we would get a lot of cool pictures, and then when I saw that there was a museum, we could go in, yes!” Katherine Vargas, from Windsor, said.

Each cell has been transformed into an exhibit.

“You get to view the last 151 years of history. We not only have items from the 1870s but we also have current items,” Cline said.

In one of the exhibits, you can learn about infamous prisoners like the youngest inmate, 11-year-old Anton Woode a.k.a. “Kid Wallace,” who was tried as an adult and was convicted of second-degree murder on March 24, 1893, and he started serving a 25-year sentence at the prison on April 8 of that same year. Woode was convicted of shooting Denver businessman Joseph Smith in the back during a rabbit hunting excursion, after which he robbed Smith of a coveted gold watch and shotgun.

Another infamous prisoner was Pearl O’Loughlin who murdered her stepdaughter Leona and tried to poison her police detective husband Leo O’Louglin. It took the jury of twelve men less than two hours to arrive at the verdict. Her verbal “confession” to police was not allowed as evidence, so the death penalty was off the table. At that time in Colorado, the death penalty could only be imposed if the convicted person had signed a confession or if there was an eyewitness to the crime.

“She said the girl had fallen, hit her head, and she didn’t know what to do so she dumped the body in the lake. She never fully took responsibility for the glass that was found in her husband and stepdaughter’s stomachs that evidently she was putting in the sugar dish over a period of time,” Cline added.

Visitors to the museum will also learn all the ways inmates were punished and put to death.

“I did like going outside to the gas chamber, the feelings I got from it. I was a little unsure, though, but that was really cool to be able to see something… that was actually used,” Vargas said.

New items are donated to the museum each week, so there will always be new exhibits to show off. They even have items used by prisoners to escape and to hurt other inmates.

“For the first 100 years, the only punishment that someone received – that they committed a crime while in prison – was to take away their good time and put them into solitary confinement,” Cline explained. “Nowadays we can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be charged with a new crime. Because they didn’t have it on the books, a law specifically to charge an existing inmate with a new crime.”

The museum also explains and shows what work inmates do behind the wall.

“All of the license plates made in Colorado are actually made at Territorial, they also make all of the little tags that go on your license plates,” Cline said. “If you have ever left Colorado and came back driving and if you see the ‘Welcome to Colorful Colorado’ sign, those were made by inmates.”

Current and past inmates also donate items they’ve created behind bars like artifacts and art. The director of the museum says there is even a mural where you could spend a lot of time viewing it.

“It’s got all sorts of hidden items throughout the painting so you could stand there for quite a while to trying to find the items actually hidden within it,” she said.

Even items in the gift shop are made by inmates. If you visit, don’t forget to ask about the paranormal activity.

“We get muddy bare feet prints in the linoleum – in fact, right where you are standing. They show up and we have to get down and really scrub them out, it’s almost like they are embedded into the linoleum and then they are gone, and then they’ll show up again,” Cline added.

Museum of Colorado Prisons address is 201 N. First Street Cañon City, CO 81212. The hours from May 1-Sept. 30 is 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Tickets to visit the museum:

  • Adults $10
  • Seniors 65+ $9
  • Children 6-12 yrs $8
  • Children 5> FREE
  • Correctional Employees $8
  • Active & Retired Military $8
  • First Responders $8
  • Call for tour group rates (719) 269-3015

“It’s awesome, you should come and see it, we had a great time, my kids loved it!” Vargas added.