Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The District of Columbia's Workhouse at Lorton, VA

 Saving souls and soils, that is the work this remarkable prison is doing. The moral, mental and physical fiber of the prisoners are remade. They are men born anew. Similarly, souls which previously have been wasters and idlers are being reformed and converted into honest wage earners. (Excerpt from The Young Persons Weekly, 2/5/1927) 
 On Saturday, Emily and I took a trip down to Lorton, VA to explore an old prison. Many of the buildings, primarily the dormitories, have been converted to an Arts Center but a few are abandoned as well as the adjoining farm.
The workhouse was originally started in 1910 where prisoners were rehabilitated with fair treatment and no walls or fences. They started with tents by the river, then built wooden structures and became a self sufficient community. Men worked the farm raising cattle and growing crops while the women made clothing and worked in the kitchens and laundry.
The wooden structures of the farm had lost a lot of their roofs and the few corrugated metal panels left clattered in the wind.
The only solid building was the dairy and offices.
There was even a milking record left hanging. The last prisoner left in 2001 but the farm was still operational up 'til then.
We found a chalkboard in the empty office building so had to sign it. Afterwards we followed a track walking past a boarded up building labeled a slaughterhouse. There was a pulley and lift system there which needed no imagination as to how it was used and I had no urge to take photos. We came to the back part of the prison and found a small open building which we assumed had been a medical center.
A small power plant still stood and we also found a mechanical workshop, now empty. We climbed steps to find other empty buildings but also found some wonderful artwork on the walls created by the prisoners.
In 1966 the U.S. Court ruled that alcoholism was a health problem and not a crime so subsequently 60% of the inmates were released. In 1968 the workhouse was closed but later became a higher security prison before finally closing down for good. 
Walking back we met a gentleman who told us how convicts often escaped. One story was of how one had run to the neighboring rock quarry and demanded a ride to the local 7/11. The driver taking the long route managed to quietly call for help as he had only allowed the ride on condition the man travel in the back of the truck. Police cars were waiting once they arrived at their destination.
Further down by the river we found the old  bee hive brick kiln which the gentleman had told us about. 
The inmates had used this kiln to make the bricks which built the buildings at Lorton Workhouse and also other historical buildings throughout northern Virginia.
After quite a few hours of exploring it was finally time for beer so we drove down to Occoquan to quench our thirst and grab a late lunch.
We also had a quick stroll up the main street and a look round my favorite store in the town.
On our way out, another quick stop at Mom's Apple Pie shop where we slugged down some wine at a tasting and bought a cake. I had a house brick thing comprising of chocolate cake and thick chocolate and walnut fudge stuff on top. I only had a few bites and then put it in the freezer when I got home. And now being reminded of it, I shall take it out and microwave it, as advised by the girl in the shop, to make a warm chocolate fudge sauce dessert. That's it, I'm off....

1 comment:

catdozer844 said...

I met you on the trail. Im from the quarry across tbe street. Found more buildings. E mail me if you are intrested.