Beautiful Boise: The Old Idaho Penitentiary

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Ally Metzler

A striking view from the Boise foothills looking down onto the Old Idaho Penitentiary.

Ally Metzler, Staff Writer/Photographer/Social Media Manager

A weekly addition to the Timberline Paw Print displaying Beautiful Boise attractions that cannot be left unseen. 

To start off this segment of Boise’s most beautiful attractions, we must get a look of life behind bars. What better to start with than the Old Idaho Penitentiary, a retired jail right off of the Boise foothills. 

The jail opened its cell doors in 1872, taking in a total of around 13,000 inmates. What makes this jail so remarkable is that inmates served more of a purpose than just staying behind bars; they constructed the woman’s ward that housed 216 women, a multipurpose building and a 17 foot sandstone wall that separated the wickedness within from the outside world. 

This jail is rich with history, alluring architecture and even possible nefarious souls (given that 10 executions took place while the jail was in use) that still roam the grounds, searching for an escape. For 101 years the penitentiary housed criminals from all over the west until incessant riots stemming from the inmate’s dreadful living conditions closed the jail down for good in 1973

The grounds themselves are captivating. This jail truly seeps with beauty. The woman’s ward, the guard towers, the detail that went into every aspect and the scenery of this jail are the definition of enticing. The grounds even bestowed three beautiful houses that served as homes to the warden, bishop and guards of the penitentiary. How unusual is it to think that a place so beautiful could house people so criminal?

The Old Idaho Penitentiary is just as important today as it was then, but now chaining people to the wonders of its history instead. It is now an Idaho historical site that gives people pieces of its history 7 days a week. Providing access to tours, scenic views and history only 4.1 miles away from Timberline High School. To learn more about the jail, you can visit their website, or better yet, you can go visit the Old Idaho Penitentiary yourself.