For over 100 years the (Old) Montana Prison at the south end of Deer Lodge housed the state’s worst offenders. Perpetually over-crowded and frequently mismanaged, the Prison was finally replaced by a new facility outside of town. Today, the Old Montana Prison, which still dominates Deer Lodge’s main street, houses five museums across 9 acres.
The Old Montana Prison has been on the site since 1871, but it’s iconic look comes from the turn of the century, when the incredibly industrious Frank Conley became warden. Convinced that hard work was the best way to keep the prisoners from rioting, Conley set the inmates to work. First they built the perimeter wall. Made out of local sandstone that the inmates quarried and shaped, the 20 foot wall extends a further 4 feet underground. With its probably unnecessarily-crenelated towers, the gray sandstone wall makes the prison look like some sort of medieval castle. Conley added to the castle-ness with the construction of Cellblock 1 in 1912. The brick-and-sandstone building also features a battlement style roof and towers, and arched windows.
The other other buildings aren’t nearly as fancy–they are the sort of low block buildings you might expect from a prison. Today, the Old Montana Prison is much more hospitable than it’s every been, even if it is rumored to be haunted. The five museums in the prison complex include more than 160 cars from the invention of automobiles on; a vast collections of toys; the largest collection of black powder rifles north of Cody, Wyoming; and a collection of historic buildings. The Museum is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Ticket prices are $15 per person; $8 for kids aged 10-15 years old and under 10 are FREE. They offer a 20% discount for AARP, Veterans, Active Military, and AAA as well as many other discounts.