Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.


West Virginia Penitentiary, Moundsville, W.Va.

After visiting Grave Creek Mound and a quick lunch in the parking lot, we walked across the street for a 2-hour tour the former West Virginia Penitentiary. A former maximum security prison, it was closed in 1995.

View of West Virginia Penn from across the street on top of Grave Creek Mound, Moundsville, W.Va.

The tour guide explained to us the culture of the prison: how long inmates were out of their cells, what they ate, what they did during the day, where they took showers, how shanks were made, etc.

She also told us stories about riots, murders within the walls of the prison, poor eating conditions and more.

It was eye-opening and scary.¬†Everyone should tour a prison. You’ll never want to visit again. You’ll be scared straight.

Here’s a photo tour:

Throughout the prison you could see peeling paint, dimly lit halls and spaces.
On this wing, first and second floors were separated by fencing.
This area was created as a family room were family could visit with prisoners. Like these paintings on the wall, prisoners (who had privileges) painted scenery throughout the prison and can be seen in places like the dining hall.
We got to check out the inside of the cells. Many had broken toilets and beds and writings and paintings on the walls. A lot of the doors were missing metal where inmates had broken off pieces to make shanks.
The guide told use about poor conditions when rats would come through the sewers and bugs were found in the mashed potatoes.
This is the gate leading to the yard for higher level inmates. They were separated into 2 yards. Three inmates were not allowed into the yard with other inmates. They were let out in the middle of the night.
You can see the fencing for the yard in the middle. The blue buildings were used for the industrial shop where inmates made products.
This yard was used for minimum risk inmates. They spent a lot of time out here playing cards, exercising and doing other activities.
This chapel is found in the yard (seen above).

These are some shanks made from everyday materials, such as a fork and toothbrush. The tour guide said all inmates had shanks or weapons to protect themselves.
Some more shanks.
We visited a room at the end of the tour that housed several artifacts including the shanks, an electric chair used in executions and news articles about riots, executions and murders within the prison walls.
This is a letter a warden received from mass murder Charles Manson. He requested to be relocated from California to West Virginia, where he was born and raised. The warden didn’t honor the request.
An article about Manson’s request to be moved to the penitentiary.


Grave Creek Mound, Moundsville, W.Va.

On our trip to W. Va. we visited our friend’s work place — Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex.

Entrance of Grave Creek Mound, Moundsville, W.Va.

This is the site of a 70-foot Native American burial ground, a feature of the Adena culture. Our friend explained that Adena is usually considered a separate people or tribe, but it’s really a tradition or culture shared by several different tribes. It would take a conference and agreement by the archaeological community to change exhibits and info around the country, he said.

Some Adena artifacts.

We visited another such burial ground in Ohio — Serpent Mounds. Both included exhibits with similar information.

At Grave Creek we walked to the top of the mound and overlooked Moundsville.

View of Moundsville, W.Va., from atop the mound.

At the foot of the mound was a small interpretive garden showing how people of the Adena era would have grown their vegetables and what types. Tomatoes and other vines, for instance, would be grown beside corn so that the plants could use the corn stalks as supports, clinging to them and they grew.

Interpretive garden at Grave Creek Mound.

The mound has been used for very interesting purposes throughout the years. My favorites — (1) an observatory was once built on top of the mound and (2) a race track was built around the foot of the mound and audiences could watch from the top.

Our friend gave us a tour of the museum’s research facility and library. Very interesting work and probably an archaeologist’s dream.

Before leaving, I grabbed a do-it-yourself scrapbook of printed out activity pages for kids. One page was for autographs of museum staff. So I took one and had our friend sign it.

I’m threading together the pages of the scrapbook.

Chris and I also stopped by the gift shop and bought some worry stones for family members. Just small, sweet stocking stuffers for Christmas.

Also at the museum are two exhibits — Homer Laughlin China Company and Fashion Dolls by Pete Ballard, a West Virginia native.

Homer Laughlin is the owner and maker of Fiesta ware and other dishes. I even saw my own Shakespeare Country dishes displayed there! Very cool. The company has operated in the area over 100 years.

I loved walking around and reading about Pete Ballard’s fashion dolls. He worked for many years as a costume designer. His knowledge and skills are exquisite! I loved learning about the 19th century fashions. I could have spent all day walking from doll to doll, studying the different styles and fabrics. But though my husband is patient, he’s not that patient!

One of many fashion dolls created by Pete Ballard.

I tried to find a website with Pete’s work but wasn’t able to. It would have been great if the pamphlet accompanying the exhibit and explaining each of the dolls would have included photos. I wish I could find a book on Ballard too, but haven’t found one.

Other things to do in Moundsville:

* Visit the Marx Brothers Toy Museum. You will see a variety of toys that you probably played with as a kid, such as toy soldiers and Big Wheels (mine was yellow and green and featured Kermit the Frog). We didn’t have time to visit, but maybe we will next time.

* Fosteria Glass Factory Museum. The glassware is no longer made in Moundsville, but there is a museum dedicated to the company’s history and products. The town is in process of tearing down the old factory. A building or two will still remain, I think. But the town’s historic factory will no longer be there. It’s being developed into a multi-use retain center.

* There are a lot of locally-owned businesses in the town and they’re a delight to check out. I checked out A Yarn Among Friends and bought some yarn for Christmas projects.

* In a later post, I’ll write about our tour of the former West Virginia Penitentiary. It was a maximum security prison that was closed down in 1995.