Joliet sets up schedule for old prison tours

The city of Joliet, Illinois, in early August will begin offering guided tours to the historic but long-closed old prison.

The Joliet Patch reported some details about the upcoming tours:

  • The Joliet Area Historical Museum will transport tourists to and from the prison by bus, about a five-minute ride each way.
  • Tours inside the old prison, known as the Joliet Correctional Center, will last about 90 minutes.
  • The museum wants to offer two daily tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and increase that to three daily in September and October.
  • Tickets to the prison likely will cost $20, but with a discount for Joliet residents and museum members.
  • Tours will resume in the spring after a winter break.

Greg Peerbolte, the museum’s executive director, described what the tour will be like:

“We’ll kind of wind around the building and the wall … This is how the inmates were brought in as prisoners. They would come in through the west sally port or the west gate.

“We’re hoping to give glimpses of the laundry facility, then you have the chapel, we’ll walk down along the school building and the cell houses …we’ll go back out and walk up to the tower here, tower one, turn around.”

From there, the tour groups will visit the north segregation unit, the building that has the famous “It’s Never Too Late! To Mend” sign that became legendary in the Blues Brothers movie.

“We’re anticipating first floor access in that building as well as there’s an original cell from the old cell houses that we’ll set up over in the courtyard so they’ll get a look at that,” Peerbolte said.

Eventually, after touring near some of the prison’s ruined buildings, the ones damaged by arson fires in recent years, the tour group will board the bus again and head to the administration building “to let people photograph that iconic structure.”

Museum officials are in the process of setting up a prison cell door in the grassy area so tourists can photograph themselves standing behind bars with the limestone fortress as the background.

In addition to the guided tours, the city seeks to eventually open a hotel, restaurants and gift shops in the prison grounds. The prison remains a popular photo op for Route 66 travelers.

Joliet Correctional Center’s limestone walls were built in 1858, and the state of Illinois closed it in 2004. The city signed a five-year lease with the state in December to use the prison.

The old Joliet Correctional Center shouldn’t be confused with Stateville Correctional Center, which sits in nearby Crest Hill, Illinois, along Illinois 53 (aka Route 66) and still is being used.

(Image of the east gate of the Joliet Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, by Jacobsteinafm via Wikimedia Commons)

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