Tours of Missouri’s historic State Penitentiary have been called off for 2013 with two months left in the tour season. The Jefferson City Conventions and Visitors Bureau is in the process of notifying 2,500 guests that their tours have been cancelled.
Communications Manager Ryan Burns says the Bureau decided to end the tours for the year when the state Office of Administration, who still owns the property, restricted access to the buildings due to the results of a site assessment. An initial request to do a modified tour for the remainder of the year was withdrawn.
“Because we didn’t have access to the buildings and we could not provide the type of tour that people were expecting, (we decided) it would be best to discontinue the tours for 2013.”
The assessment was done at the request of the Visitors Bureau over concerns about mold in the buildings.
Burns explains, “When we got back into the buildings this summer and the temperature started rising we noticed a bit more of a musty smell than we had noticed in years’ past … we were concerned whether the conditions inside the buildings had changed at all … we felt that it was our responsibility to our staff and to the public that were coming for tours to ensure that the conditions of the buildings were suitable for public access.”
The Bureau is optimistic that the closure will spur more discussions with the state about the long-term preservation of the site.
“We’re hopeful that we can resume tours in 2014. We’re not going to throw in the towel … we’re going to do everything in our ability to get back into that site and continue offering tours in the future.”
The State Penitentiary received its first inmate in March, 1836 and was the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi River when it closed in September, 2004. Tours of the site began in 2009. The Bureau says more than 14,000 people had taken a tour this year and it was on pace to reach 20,000.