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The Big House

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the big house

Ohio State Penitentiary

Where: Columbus Ohio

When: Late 1990's

Status: Demolished

The state Pen was one of the first places added to the site. I visited the pen on a few occasions over during the years leading up when it was demolished to allow room for the Nationwide Arena. Today there is very little to even remind us of where the prison once stood. The area has been rebuilt and the landscape has changed. Here is what I wrote about the prison upon building the site in the 1990's...

The prison was built in Columbus, Ohio in 1834. It was the second Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, with the first being in Scioto Street in Franklinton along the banks of the Scioto River. The prison was large enough that it held over 5,000 prisoners at one point. By the late 1970s newer and better equipped facilities were built and the Ohio Pen was becoming obsolete. In 1984 the pen closed its doors sending most prisoners to Mansfield's new prison. To many this was a major loss, but to those of us who explore it was the greatest thing ever to happen to Columbus's exploration scene.

Main cell block being demolished

Stone was preserved for future use. Some of the stone sat near the former site for quite some time although I do not know if it was ever put to use.

As you'll notcie in the pictures provided, the prison was torn down in 1998 to make room for the new Nationwide arena. I unfortunately have no pictures of my journies inside the prison. On our last attempt at going in, after the decision to tear it down, we were faced with a security guard who was watching over the partially destroyed prison. We chose not to go in, and returned the next day to snap these photos. I'm very dissapointed that I never had the sense to take pictures on the inside, but I'll always have memories of one of the greatest abandoned sites in Columbus, and possibly the World.
My first trip into the prison was spawned from a failed attempt at going into an abandoned building near Front Street in Columbus, Ohio. Unfortunately the only entrance ot the building on Front St. was a second floor window. I was the first to step in, and the first to go through the rotted floor. I didn't go completely thorugh, but my foot and leg were enough to make me turn around. Upon my exit a discussion began as to where to go. The minority of us decided on the Prison, but since everyone actually wanted to go (they just didn't know it), we went.

You can see the second floor gymnasium near where the crane is sitting.

The prison at this point was surrounded by a chainlink fence due to the removal of the wall about 2 years prior. There was a gate near the rear of the complex that was large enought to easily fit through. The layout of the complex required us to run, as low as possible, through the entire courtyard. We arrived at the first of many different buildings. (only the main cellblock is pictured here). All of the buildings were very open and easy to get into. We were welcomed by a loud banging noise echoing through the warehouse sized building. It ended up being the wind.

Remains of the cellblock.
The complex was large, and our "tour" took most of the night from about 2:00am until about 6:00am (it was getting light). We didn't hit all of the buildings that night, but what I saw made me know I'd return. We made it a point to climb into the courtyard observation tower, and my companions climbed the water tower, a feat I'd accomplish on my second trip. By far, the most shocking part of the trip is the cellblock.

Our trip took us through many buildings including a cafeteria, workshop, church, and hospital. The cell block had the biggest impact on me. From floor to ceiling to floor were bars. The cells were separed from the outside walls as a separate complex within a bulding. (imagine a cheap 2 story style hotel with outside hallways inside an airplane hangar). The cells were very small and faced awayfrom each other separed by bricks. Thats isolation! The paint was peeling to a point of not being able to rea most of the numbers above the cells.
We toured the rest of the main cellblock building and found many other interesting things such as what appeared to be the visitation area with strange paintings on the walls, and the old windowed telephone booths. This led us to believe the other cellblock would have been the cellblock in major use because the telephones were between the visitation area and the newer cellblock. We weren't able to get upstairs into what I later found out was an indoor gym/courtyard sort of thing due to a burnt stairwell and poor flashlights.

Cells along Neil Ave

That same night we visited the church which was a very peaceful and serine area to sit an think. We made it into the cafeteria where the tables and benches still sat. We looked into some tunnles (my friend would later use these to escape from the cops on a trip I passed up). We saw an upstairs machine shop that still held drill presses, and we even journied into the cellblock basement in search of the infamous electric chair. It was gone.

My second and final trip brought us into more buildings, and roofs. We found an elevator room that made us question if we were the first there since 1984. We found elevator shafts with the elevators stuck in between. We found what some say is solitary and others say is Death Row (I'll look into this). I finally climbed the watertower an touched the ball at the top. We found strange patios, tunnles, and offices. The second trip was by far the most fun. My friend claimed himself an ashtray that looked very similar in spirit to the watertower. He still had it when I saw him 3 years ago.

The prison is one of those places that can't be recreated. There are places that are scarry, places that are interestin, probably even other prisons, but ours was had its own attiude and emotion that can't be beat. My friends were later arrested there for repelling from the water tower. This is when one of them escaped through the tunnles. I was never afraid of being caught. It would be worth it. It taught me much about what will go into this page and much about my feelings on abandoned buildings. Never pass up a chance...

More pictures can be found in the gallery here.


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