West Virginia Penitentiary

More From West Virginia

A tough prison full of unhappy people with violent
behavioral issues led to fatal consequences

Snitches didn’t last long…

Torturous botched executions didn’t result in peace.

The Sugar Shack was place of pain, humiliation and suffering.

The misbehaving, hard-to-handle inmates suffered near-fatal injuries.


jail-paranormalWest Virginia Penitentiary has been described as being an “imposing stone structure fashioned in the castellated Gothic architectural style (adorned with turrets and battlements, like a castle).” Though modeled after Joliet Prison, West Virginia Penitentiary would be “approximately one-half the size of Joliet.”

The walls surrounding the prison were 24 feet high and 6 feet wide at the bottom, tapering to 18 inches at the top. Buildings constructed in this first phase found within the walls included North Wagon Gate, North and South Cell Blocks, an Administration Building and the Warden’s House. Cells were 5 x 7 feet, which encouraged inmates to participate in work areas of the prison.

In 1866, the idea of building a prison here became a reality when the state legislature authorized funds to buy land in Moundsville for this institution because Moundsville was near the then state capitol city of Wheeling.

The first building to be finished was the North Wagon Gate building and was built by 150 inmates, using hand-cut sandstone from a near by quarry, and then became the housing unit for these 150 inmates. The first phase of West Virginia Penitentiary was finished in 1876, opening for business.

Inside the prison, the inmates were involved in areas of work needed to run the prison: Blacksmith, Wagon Shop, Carpentry Shop, Brickyard, Stone Yard, Paint Shop, Tailor, Bakery and Hospital. A prison farm was also started to grow food for the inmates, and a prison coal mine was opened in 1921. The prison was now not only self-sufficient, but saved the state $14,000 per year in fuel costs.

In 1929, phase two of a building program to double the size of the prison began, which wasn’t completed until 1959, due to the shortage of steel during WW2. These new cell blocks eventually eased the horrible overcrowding; which caused triple bunking in the prison’s 5 x 7 foot cells.

West Virginia Penitentiary Executions began in 1899. Eighty-five men were hung in the prison gallows: 1899-1949. Nine men were electrocuted from 1951-1959. In 1959, the death penalty was thrown out.

The West Virginia Penitentiary reached its peak in population during the 1960s, becoming home to 2000 inmates. The last 35 years of the prison, from 1960 – 1995, had many disturbances including riots and escapes. In 1986, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the 5 X 7 cells at West Virginia Penitentiary were cruel and unusual punishment which was the beginning of the end for this facility. By 1995, The inmate population was around 700 before the prison closed for good. New facilities had been completed to house inmates serving time for the state of West Virginia.



Prisons are often the places of unhappy, angry people and death by the hands of authorities or by other prisoners happened. (See related posts: Alcatraz, CA * Wyoming Frontier Prison, WY * Ohio State Reformatory, OH)

Thus, prisons are a great place to find ghosts of people who have had traumatic experiences or have even died there, and can’t quite leave just yet.



Spirit of a Snitch

The most ghost most often seen.

This maintenance man lived in the basement; Is often seen by the living wandering around the bathroom area of this basement.

The maintenance man made it his hobby to report the wrong doings of inmates to the guards, which must have made him feel important and superior.

The inmates got together and shivved him with homemade knives, while he was sitting on the toilet.

Spirit of Arvil Paul Adkins

Is thought to haunt the gallows area.

He was a victim of a botched hanging; one of many botched hangings.

He was up on the scaffold, but the trap door opened prematurely and he fell down through the hole, landing on his head, becoming badly injured.

The guards took him back up on the scaffold and hung him correctly this time.

Death by Warden

After a discipline session with the Warden, Inmate Roberts died in his cell and was buried behind a wall.

The Spirit of Roberts haunts his cell where he died of his injuries.

His fatal ordeal:

Cincinnati Enquirer, Nov. 30, 1886 – Reported that that many deaths were caused by the wardens, who had been known to torture misbehaving inmates with ice cold water in the face while being held in stocks.

The really bad inmates were given with near death beatings, tied to a Kicking Jenny. Inmate’s feet were clamped to the floor, while their bodies were bent over a kicking Jenny, with their hands tied above their heads on blocks. How lovely!!!

The Sugar Shack

The winter recreation room in the basement, also called the Sugar Shack, has been the hotbed of paranormal activity.

Though no one was killed here, a lot of violence happened here because they were very loosely supervised by guards.



Yes Indeed!

Ghost Hunts and Tours are offered, as the hauntings are well known and documented. Even though the inmates are long gone, some of their ghosts are making money for the upkeep of these buildings by simply haunting the place because of their pain and anguish; perhaps not realizing that they are dead or not willing to go to the other side; wanting to stay where it is familiar.

From the official Web-Site: “At 8 PM, you’ll enter the gates of what was once one of the bloodiest prisons in America for an hour-long guided tour of the facility. Then, until 6 am, you can explore the facility for mystical spirits under the direction of a qualified paranormal investigator or ON YOUR OWN. Don’t miss this opportunity of an eternity! Available March through November. Tours fill up quickly.”

Check out the video of a ghost hunter, in which one can see a shadowy apparition on the left side near cells. When it sees the photographer it makes a quick exit into the wall.

Another Ghost Hunting Group from Ohio posted pics on their website, which show orbs and other things. They felt bad feelings around some of the cells. Some communicated with a ghost named Todd, who died in lock up.



West Virginia Penitentiary
818 Jefferson Avenue
Moundsville, WV 26041

In the town of Moundsville, West Virginia Penitentiary can be found on the corner of Jefferson and 8th Street. From I-70, take Route 2 South to Moundsville, turn left on Eighth Street, and the Penitentiary is two blocks ahead.


  • West Virginia Penitentiary Web site

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

Haunts in West Virginia