Utah Centennial Studies


Mystery History: The Old Utah State Prison Packet D


Tribune March 13, 1951

Almost a Century of Service ends

The long, at times turbulent, career of the old Utah State Prison in Sugar House came to an end Wednesday when the prison site of 180 acres was turned over to Salt Lake City and county.

This is an obituary.

The abandoned Utah State Prison, 14th East and 21st South, in Sugar House, died at noon Wednesday of causes incident to old age.

There was no eulogy for the ancient 180-acre prison site which served Utah, first as a territory and then as a state, for almost 100 years. Formal rites were held and the gutted buildings and land were turned over to Salt Lake City and County. Much of the area will be converted into a city and county park and tourist center. The Salt Lake City Board of Education gets about 30 acres for a new city high school.

...Gov. Brigham Young in a message to the Territorial Legislature on Dec. 13, 1853, announced the selection of the site for the prison.

"The site for the penitentiary has been located by the (territorial) secretary, the Hon. A.W. Babbitt, on Canyon Creek adjacent to the southeast limits of this city," Gov. Young said.

In 1854 the adobe brick prison was constructed. Improvements and new construction followed and on Jan. 4, 1896, Utah became a state and took over the prison. George N. Dow became the state's first warden Feb. 4, 1896.

At the turn of the century the prison started to "fail" and by 1948 it was decaying fast. Warden John E. Harris on Aug. 1, 1948, urged the completion of the new prison at the Point of the Mountain. This was necessary, he said, in view of the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at the ancient prison site.

Warden Reports

"Sixty men are sleeping on cots in the corridors of Cellhouse No. 1," the warden said. "the men must eat each meal in three shifts because kitchen and dining room space is so limited. Toilet facilities in Cellhouse No. 3 are virtually primitive with buckets being used."

The warden's diagnosis of the prison's ills was a valid one, but not until 1951 did the old prison give up its burden. On March 12, 1951, the biggest mass movement in Utah history was carried out. Four hundred forty-four prisoners under the guard of more than 200 heavily armed Utah peace officers were moved in a caravan to the new Point of the Mountain prison.