Stillwater State Prison, Stillwater, Minnesota

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Stillwater State Prison

The Minnesota State Prison, Stillwater.
Stillwater, Minnesota
Washington County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year Established: 1851
Historic Function: Correctional Facility

Stillwater Washington County

A territorial prison was established in Stillwater by an act of the territorial legislature in February 1851. It began to receive inmates in March of 1853 at a facility consisting of a prison building with 582 cells, a chapel, dining hall, kitchen, and administrative offices within a nine-acre walled area. A hospital building was added in 1889. By the turn of the century, the prison was facing serious overcrowding, and legislative appropriations in 1905 ($75,000), 1907 ($100,000), and 1909 ($2.25 million) were made to build a new prison on a 160-acre site two miles south of the old prison. Until the establishment of the Shakopee State Reformatory for Women (1920) the Stillwater prison received female as well as male convicts, and employed a matron (sometimes referred to as stewardess) to supervise them and attend to their needs. In addition, the prison sometimes received federal prisoners and was compensated for their maintenance.

The leasing of prisoners was allowed until 1895 (Laws 1895 c154); thereafter, only the sale of finished goods from the prison’s own shops was permitted. Prison shops, consolidated as the Industrial Department in 1921, produced twine, shoes, high school scientific apparatus, farm machinery (authorized by Laws 1907 c49), and other farm equipment. The prison industries program continues to produce twine and farm machinery.


Memories and stories

Photo Gallery

Related Links

Northfield Raid and the James-Younger Gang

Stillwater State Prison Log

Convict Life at the Minnesota State Prison

Stillwater Minnesota's Birthplace

Finding Minnesota Prison Warden's House

Stillwater time capsule

Fire Destroys Historic Stillwater Prison


Stillwater State Prison Log September 7, 2006 marked the 130th anniversary of the Northfield First National Bank robbery attempt by the notorius James-Younger Gang. After two weeks on the run, the Younger brothers, Cole, Jim, and Bob, were captured and sentenced to 25 years in the state prison at Stillwater in November 1876.

Recently, the Minnesota Historical Society acquired a Stillwater State Prison record book that includes information about all three brothers. The record book is entitled “Cell Room Daily Report”, and dates from June 1, 1880 through September 28, 1882. The record book is the prison’s daily record listing prisoners who were sick in their cell, isolated in the “dungeon”, sent on work details, or staying in the prison for the day. The Younger brothers were often “sick in cell”, especially Cole Younger. Why Cole was sick in his cell is not detailed. During the period the record book was compiled there were 210 to 280 inmates, males and females, in the state prison.

It is unclear if the record book is for the entire prison, or for just one cellblock, but the book gives some insights about the Younger brothers and their incarceration. The record book is particularly valuable, since there are few, if any, records documenting the Younger Brothers imprisonment in the state prison. The Younger brothers (Cole, cell no. 64; Bob, cell no. 65; Jim, cell no. 66) are frequently mentioned in the record book, and the State Archives of the Minnesota Historical Society has only a few records documenting the brothers imprisonment in the Stillwater State Prison. Bob Younger died in prison in 1889; Jim was pardoned in 1901 and committed suicide in 1902; Cole, also pardoned in 1901, died in 1916.

The Stillwater State Prison was initally established as a territorial prison in 1853 and become the first state prison when Minnesota became a state in 1858. The State Archives holds a variety of records from the prison including convict registers, case files, annual reports, and photographs.

  • Minnesota Historical Society Agency History Record
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