The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update


March 17, 2012

History: Fire brought reformatory to Pendleton

PENDLETON, Ind. — On Feb. 6, 1918, the Indiana State Prison located in Jeffersonville was severely damaged by fire.

The Reformatory, also known as Indiana State Prison South, housed young inmates between the ages of 16 to 30. Older inmates were incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison located in Michigan City.

Indiana Gov. James P. Goodrich, a Republican,  and his commission decided to relocate the prison to an area located in the central part of the state. Goodrich felt that the town of Pendleton would be an ideal site.

Construction commenced in March 1922. Overseeing the project was architect Herbert W. Folz, whose plan was to have the cell blocks fan out from a central point. The buildings were arranged so natural light, air and green grass would be evident. The buildings were modeled after the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The original design included a dormitory, administration building, officer’s quarters, official residences, warehouses, barns and three cell houses.

Prisoners helped build

The relocation of the reformatory to south Madison County was met with mixed opinion from the residents of Pendleton. Though many did not want a state prison located in the small town, others welcomed the labor it brought to the county. Over 300 common laborers and artisans were used, making it one of the largest sites built in Indiana in recent years.

To ease mounting construction costs, prisoners from Jeffersonville were used in the erection of two industrial buildings. Legend has it that the prisoners walked by foot from Jeffersonville to Pendleton, under the watchful eye of prison guards.

In July 1922 excavation began on the 4,000-foot wall surrounding the prison, that occupied 31 acres of land. Newly-elected Gov. Warren T. McCray awarded the Reformatory a contract from Brazil Brick Company of Brazil, Ind., to supply 3 million buff-colored matt-faced bricks for the exterior of the prison. The state paid $27.50 per 1,000 bricks that was delivered. Superintendent Fred Friedline proposed that the final cost of the Indiana Reformatory would exceed $3 million.

Upon its completion the Indiana Reformatory had a greenhouse, foundry, power plant, chapel, prison band, ball diamond, recreation center, water tower, and a learning center for the inmates. The educational system of the Indiana Reformatory has been known through the years as the School of Letters.

Conditions changed in 1951 when educators from Indiana University and Purdue University studied the educational needs of inmates in order to meet the qualifications of the State Board of Education. The learning center was given a name so it would not be associated with the reformatory.

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