The prisoners who lived at the Wyoming Territorial Prison before its days as a farm and later an historic site had to endure Laramie’s brutal winter conditions while being housed in equally brutal living conditions.
For the first time this winter, the prison will remain open year-round, offering visitors a similar taste of the changing seasons from behind bars.
“One of the unique aspects of coming to see the prison in the wintertime is you’ll be able to embrace the environment that the convicts lived in year-round,” said site superintendent Deborah Cease. “It’ll give a different feel to the prison.”
The historic site, located at 975 Snowy Range Rd., transitioned to new winter hours earlier this week and is now open from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday through May 1, including the gift shop. The site will be closed Nov. 21-22 for Thanksgiving and Dec. 25-26 for Christmas.
Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for youth from 11-17 years old and free for children 11 and younger.
During the summer, the site is open from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Prior to this year, the site was closed to the public from Nov. 1-April 30.
Cease said winter hours were added in response to requests from the public, mostly coming from visitors to Laramie looking for something to add to their itineraries. Often, people would stop in and ask the site’s year-round staff if they could look around.
“These are people that were here visiting Laramie for the weekend for a certain function, and they were looking for something to do on a Friday or a Saturday,” she said.
Cease said the site employs a reduced number of staff during the winter to work on buildings, make repairs and prepare education programs. The same group of employees will be able to accommodate visitors, with some of them shifting the days of the week they work.
Allowing visitors to explore the prison during the winter offers a different experience than the summer, which Cease said she and other staff members were excited about.
“It’s one thing to tell people how cold the building is when it’s 80 degrees outside, but to be standing in it when it’s 20 degrees — they get the whole picture that way,” she said.
The Wyoming Territorial Prison was built in 1872 and is one of the oldest buildings in Wyoming. It operated as a federal penitentiary until 1890 and as a state prison until 1901.
In 1903, ownership was transferred to the University of Wyoming, which used it as an agricultural experiment station until 1989. In 1991, it opened to the public, and in 2004 it became the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site.
The original cell block had three tiers of cells heated by fireplaces at either end. A second cell block built in 1889 provided steam heat, along with cells for women and those in solitary confinement.
The historic site hosted its annual Pumpkin Walk last Saturday, and its Holiday Lights and Music Show is scheduled for 5:30-11:30 p.m. daily Nov. 23-Jan. 1. The show includes 20 displays with more than 10,000 lights that are synchronized to holiday songs playing through a radio transmission.
A special event this year a stopover by the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on its way from Oregon to Washington, D.C. The tree will stand on the U.S. Capitol lawn during the holiday season.
The tree is scheduled to stop for the night in Laramie on its way east, and it will be open for public viewing at 9 a.m. Nov. 18 for about an hour, Cease said. The public can also sign a banner accompanying the tree.