- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

FORT MADISON, Iowa (AP) - A chance to tour the old prison in Fort Madison has drawn big crowds, encouraging local residents who want to preserve the historic structure, parts of which date to 1839.

The crowd, estimated to be in the thousands, lined up to get a look at the Historic Iowa State Penitentiary, a landmark previously closed to the general public, The Hawk Eye (https://bit.ly/2pTpoeS ) reported.

“We’re very glad there is such an interest,” said Patti Wachtendorf, the penitentiary’s first female warden. “There’s a whole lot of history here. We’re thrilled to have a big turnout.”

The facility has been empty since its inmates were shuttled to a new, modern prison capable of holding hundreds more inmates a few years ago. It took on a temporary new life Sunday in its first public tour, an effort to rally support for preserving the old prison as a historical site.

A nonprofit, Historic Iowa State Penitentiary Inc., is seeking funds to preserve the structure.

During the tours, groups of about 20 were paired with a volunteer guide. Several of guides used to work inside the penitentiary.

Fort Madison resident Deann Huffman said she was excited about what the group would be seeing.

“It’s an amazing part of history,” Huffman said. “If we don’t keep history alive, then we don’t have any history. What our forefathers did means nothing.”

The hourlong tours first passed the command room and a stripsearch area. Visitors also saw the gymnasium, which had a list of the “Benefits of Exercise” written on the wall, and a dining hall, which still had an old menu hung up, offering a few options for breakfast.

Some buildings weren’t accessible for safety reasons.

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Information from: The Hawk Eye, https://www.thehawkeye.com


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