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Lorton in Fairfax County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Development of a Progressive-Era Model Penal System

Workhouse Prison Museum at Lorton

 
 
Development of a Progressive-Era Model Penal System Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), February 2, 2020
1. Development of a Progressive-Era Model Penal System Marker
Inscription.  In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt, appointed a special three-member Penal Commission to investigate the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at the District of Columbia jail and workhouse. The Progressive-era reform movement advocated training prisoners for an employable trade following their release, and also making prisons self-supporting through use of prison labor while "providing a wholesome and uplifting environment."

The Commission recommended, and Congress approved, the purchase of a 1,155-acre tract north of the Occoquan River, which was acquired in 1910. The first prisoners arrived by barge in the summer of that year. The Workhouse developed into an agricultural work camp and over time expanded into extensive agricultural operations, including cultivated fields, pasture land, an orchard and cannery, a poultry farm, hog ranch, slaughterhouse, dairy, blacksmith shop, sawmill and feed, hay and storage barns.

Changes at the Workhouse
During the ninety-some years the District of Columbia's Correctional Complex was operational, the area in use increased to over 3200 acres. In addition to the Workhouse,
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a Reformatory, Penitentiary and Youth Center were built on the property. The Workhouse officially closed in February, 1968. The majority of the buildings were turned over to the D.C. Department of Public Health for an Alcohol Rehabilitation Center. In 1983, the Center was closed, fences and guard towers were built and buildings were again used as a medium-security prison.

In 1998, Federal legislation was passed closing the entire Complex and in May, 1999 the Workhouse finally closed. The last prisoner left Lorton in November, 2001.

After the Lorton Correctional Complex closed, 2324 acres were sold to Fairfax County, Virginia in 2002 for 4.2 million dollars. The County undertook a comprehensive adapted re-use study for this growing suburb. A decision was made to create a private, not-for-profit, multi-arts center on 55 acres of the former Workhouse site. The Workhouse Arts Center, managed by the Lorton Arts Foundation, opened to the public in September 2008.

[Caption:]
Aerial View, D.C. Workhouse, 1961
Courtesy of the D.C. Department of Corrections

At this time no fences surrounded the minimum security facility. The cattle barn and plowed fields illustrate the agricultural activities of the inmates. Baseball was an important recreational activity.

 
Erected by
Development of a Progressive-Era Model Penal System Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), February 2, 2020
2. Development of a Progressive-Era Model Penal System Marker
Workhouse Prison Museum at Lorton; EnviroSolutions, Inc.
 
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: AgricultureAnimalsArts, Letters, MusicEducationIndustry & CommerceLaw EnforcementParks & Recreational AreasScience & MedicineSports. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #26 Theodore Roosevelt series list. A significant historical month for this entry is February 1968.
 
Location. 38° 41.895′ N, 77° 15.325′ W. Marker is in Lorton, Virginia, in Fairfax County. Marker is on Workhouse Way, 0.2 miles north of Ox Road (Virginia Route 123). Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 9510 Workhouse Way, Lorton VA 22079, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Prisoners at the Workhouse (within shouting distance of this marker); Irma Clifton (within shouting distance of this marker); Occoquan Workhouse (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); a different marker also named Occoquan Workhouse (about 400 feet away); Lorton Nike Missile Site (approx. 0.6 miles away); Occoquan River Bridges (approx. 0.9 miles away); Historic Occoquan (approx. 0.9 miles away); Town of Occoquan (approx. 0.9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Lorton.
 
Adjacent plaque image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), February 2, 2020
3. Adjacent plaque
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on February 2, 2020. It was originally submitted on February 2, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 371 times since then and 80 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on February 2, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.

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May. 28, 2024