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“I think people are mostly just curious about how a prison operates,” he said, a belief echoed by Columbia residents John and Melissa Wales, who took part in one of Sunday’s tours.

As they studied the handmade weapons and contraband seized from former inmates, Ms. Wales said she and her husband didn’t know the historic prison was in the neighboring town.

“It looks worse than I thought it would,” she said.

The Maryland House of Correction officially opened on Jan. 1, 1879 with a population of 200 inmates. Some of the most common offenses that landed men in jail at the turn of the 20th centurywere vagrancy and begging, though according to a record in the mess hall, one inmate was behind bars for “puncturing a mare.”

Over the decades, the prison grew to include farmland, a dairy herd, and various production areas for broom making, bookbinding and tobacco drying — all places where inmates worked.

Along with jobs, the prison also added buildings and more inmates, many of whom were incarcerated for charges much more serious than unauthorized train riding.

In 1979, 30 men escaped the prison through a dormitory window all during one attempt.

The correctional facility, nicknamed “the Cut” because of the nearby railroad that sliced through the land, entered its most violent years in 1945. Those extended well into the early 2000s. In 2006, a corrections officer doing a nightly round was fatally stabbed by two inmates. Months later, three officers would also be stabbed, though none of them fatally.

Faced with escalating violence as well as a deteriorating facility, in what Mr. Vernarelli described as “probably one of the boldest and unusual moves,” Gov. Martin O’Malley and then-Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard shut down the prison in March 2007. Within two weeks, about 800 inmates were shuffled out of the House of Correction and an additional 1,200 prisoners moved around to other facilities in the state to make room for the new residents.

Though the prison has had its bloodier times, Mr. Hornbaker said that when he walks through the halls now, he sees the friendly faces of fellow staffers.

“There are so many memories here,” he said. Like walking through your grandmother’s house before it is sold, he said, “you’ll never be in this house again.”