Old Joliet Prison Opens Back up For Tours Tomorrow (Saturday)

If you’ve ever wanted to get behind the walls of a piece of local history, your chance is coming up!

The Old Joliet Prison on Collins Street re-opens for tours this weekend, and they have a lot of difference options.

There are self-guided tours, general history tours, haunted history, guard and photography tours. You can book any of these on their website.

They are even running a contest for a free membership. If you take a tour during their opening week, you are automatically entered.

Opened in 1858, just six years after the incorporation of the City of Joliet, the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet, now known simply as the “Old Joliet Prison,” has – for better or worse been – synonymous with the City of Joliet for nearly its entire history. The Joliet Prison, with its iconic castellated gothic architecture was designed by Chicago earliest architect W.W. Boyington, who also designed the Chicago Water Tower. The use of Joliet limestone was a trademark of Boyington’s designs and this locally quarried stone was used to erect structures all around the country. The prison in Joliet replaced the first state penitentiary in Alton, built on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in 1831.

The Prison is probably best known today for its most popular, albeit fictional inmate – “Joliet Jake” Blues from the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.” Since then, the Prison has made a number of appearances in films in television, including as the character of “Fox River State Penitentiary” in the critically acclaimed Fox series “Prison Break,” and in smaller scenes in Derailed, Let’s Go to Prison, and recently, Empire.

Sadly, despite this interest from Hollywood, the Prison remained closed, and in addition to damage from the elements, was subject to rampant vandalism, including several acts of arson. Attempts were made to find suitable options for reuse, including tourism, by the Collins Street Task Force of concerned public and private leaders, but these efforts were stalled by the Great Recession of 2008. Continued vandalism and destruction of the site led Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk to personally petition the state government to allow the City of Joliet to take control of the property in December of 2017. Since then, the City looked to the Joliet Area Historical Museum to take a leadership role in operating tours at the site. In partnership with the City, the Museum identified a number of community partners to form a public/private partnership entity, The Old Joliet Prison Preservation Coalition. To date, the project has been met with an enthusiastic response from the community of Joliet, culminating in over 6,500 volunteer hours, one million dollars in in-kind labor and donations, and nearly $200,000 in funds raised to benefit the site.

True to its historic legacy, the Old Joliet Prison now takes it rightful place as an authentic, unique asset which is inextricably linked the history of the City of Joliet, and it continues to draw interest from visitors all around the world.