Look Back: Locals spent term in Moundsville

Stars and Bars: A visit to the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville

The West Virginia Penitentiary is an institution in which Parkersburg and Wood county has a particular interest, by virtue of the fact that nearly one-tenth of all the prisoners confined within its walls have been sent from this place. Such being the case a report from our colony of evil-doers there cannot fail to be of interest to our readers. In company with Sheriff Stewart and Captain Mehen, a STATE JOURNAL scribe visited the penitentiary a short time since. Henry Gooden, convicted of the Weinberg burglary, made one of the party. Henry will remain at Moundsville for a period of five years. He is an old resident there, having formerly served two terms, and he took kindly to the stripes in which he was clothed on his arrival there.

The penitentiary is not the dark gloomy prison, with foul reeking dungeons, brutal sentries, “moldy crusts,” and inhuman instruments of torture, pictured by the story-writer, but it is as clean, airy and wholesome as a place of confinement can be made. It is said to be one of the best arranged and cleanest penitentiaries in the country, a credit to the State, if the term may be used in such a connection. Especial attention is paid to all necessary hygienic precautions, with the result that in 1884 there were but seven deaths in the institution, and one of these was from the effect of gunshot wounds.

The routine of the day begins at 6:40 in the morning when the roll is called. Each prisoner makes his own bed. They then march by sections, in file, with chain step, to the troughs in the yard where they wash. They breakfast at 7 o’clock, dine at 12 p.m., and have supper at half-past five. The bill of fare is simple, but, with appetites gained by hard work it is always relished. For breakfast they have wheat bread, coffee, molasses, breakfast bacon, and rice or hominy; for dinner they are given corn bread, meat, either pickled pork or beef, potatoes, cabbage, or some other vegetable; for supper the menu is about the same with the addition of molasses. At half-past eight in the evening the bell rings and every prisoner must extinguish the light in his cell and get into bed.

The prisoners nearly all are employed by the Webster Wagon company and Weaver & Bardell. The shops of the Webster Wagon company are four in number, two wood shops, one blacksmith shop and one paint shop. This company now has about ninety convicts employed. Their contract calls for 100, but the Governor has pardoned so many lately that it has reduced their force. For able bodied men they pay the State 65 cents per day, for others 40 cents per day. The men have a certain “task” to perform each day; that accomplished they may make extra time for which they are paid. Weaver and Bardell have two shops , one whip and one broom factory. They employ about 100 men, and pay 52 cents per diem for able bodied men and for others 42 cents.

[Note: the penitentiary at Moundsville was built in 1866 and is today, a major tourist attraction.]

Excerpt from the Parkersburg Daily State Journal

Feb. 23, 1885

To be continued …


Bob Enoch is president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society. If you have comments or questions about Look Back items, please contact him at: roberteenoch@gmail.com, or by mail at WCHPS, PO Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102.


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