Former state prison to resume tours in April

Sunday, March 23, 2014 | 5:48 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Starting in April, Missouri residents will once again have the chance to tour a former state prison.

Tours in limited areas of the Missouri State Penitentiary are scheduled to resume on April 21, The Jefferson City News-Tribune reported. The Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau announced that full walkthroughs of the facility would begin July 1.

Public tours were halted last fall after high levels of mold were discovered. As a result, the city and state officials agreed to split the estimated $2 million repair bill for mold remediation.

"By preserving this iconic structure, the State of Missouri and City of Jefferson have ensured that generations of visitors can continue to safely experience this historic Missouri landmark for many years to come," said Office of Administration Commissioner Doug Nelson.

Repairs were needed to seal windows, replace and repair roofs and clean mold and other hazardous materials. Repairs at the gas chamber used for executions include roof repairs and remediation of hazardous materials.

The tours starting in April will cover the gas chamber and a few housing units while work is ongoing to restore the rest of the site. Work is expected to be completed by late June to allow full tours to resume in July.

The Missouri State Penitentiary opened in 1836 and was the oldest continually operating prison west of the Mississippi River when it shut down in 2004. It housed several notable inmates, including boxer Sonny Liston and bank robber Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd. James Earl Ray had escaped from the prison when he assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. It was also the site of a riot in 1954 that killed four inmates and four prison workers and injured 50 others.

There were more than 19,000 visitors to the prison site in 2012, and tourism officials estimated visits last year were on pace to break 20,000 before the remaining tours had to be canceled.

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