The Eastern State Penitentiary was built in 1829 in, then, the outskirts of Philadelphia (now the super cute Fairmount neighborhood). Its revolutionary design made it the worlds first real penitentiary (or a place people go for penance). The hub & spoke design featured individual single cells, or what we would now call solitary confinement. Prison designers thought that a lot of alone time would be beneficial to the criminals and help them repent faster. By 1913, the penitentiary was getting pretty crowded & they decided to do away with the solitary cells. Prisoners started doubling up & an upstairs row of cells was added to a few cellblocks.
The prison was closed in 1970 & was left largely untouched for almost 20 years. In 1988, it was bought by a historic group (after, thank goodness, a few proposals to turn it into luxury condos fell through) & restored as a modern ruin. The idea of the restoration is not to make it what it was back in the 1800s, but to preserve it in its current state. That current state is, quite frankly, really cool.
The Eastern State Penitentiary is open for tours & is the best $14 you’ll spend on an attraction in Philadelphia. The tour includes a great audio guide, narrated by the very creepy Steve Buscemi. Give yourself plenty of time to walk around, we were there for easily two hours & moved quickly through the end.
The whole place is pretty spooky & is an amazing urban ruin. It’s also a photographers dream, with all the rust, dust, peeling paint, discarded bed frames & nightstands, & cabinets barely hanging on the walls.
Hungry after your Eastern State visit? Pop across the street to Jack’s (a restaurant in an old fire house) or Fare, a new farm-to-table restaurant. Then pop down to the cute boutique shops in Fairmount Ave, including the local bike shop & Ali’s Wagon, a great gift shop (tell Jessie that I sent you!).
Our tickets to the Eastern State Penitentiary & lunch at Fare was provided courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. However, all opinions expressed are my own. Yeah, it really was awesome.