For 168 years, the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) was a destination for dangerous criminals. “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Sonny Liston, and James Earl Ray all did time inside the prison walls.
In 1967, Time magazine called MSP the “bloodiest 47 acres in America” to describe overcrowded, often violent conditions. Decommissioned in 2004, MSP is now a destination offering Mystery, Ghost, History, and Photography Tours in Jefferson City.
Tourists will glimpse the mighty Missouri River from narrow windows, and in the courtyard below, a “V” for Victory monument built by prisoners. Some tours will also take people along the brick path leading to the gas chamber where prisoners installed a cross reminding the condemned of the hereafter they were about to enter. Some tourists in search of paranormal encounters can even book an overnight investigation. All tours require reservations that can be completed online.
After bearing witness to the trials of Missouri’s prisoners, tourists can go behind another set of bars. These are just a design feature at Prison Brews, a microbrewery on Lafayette Street, a few blocks from MSP. Specializing in small batch ales, Prison Brews Microbrewery and Restaurant offers a flight for all its beer on tap. Guests can also choose one fitting individual tastes by consulting menu descriptions. Brick-oven baked pizza, beer-batter bread and cheese boards, burgers, or salads washed down with handcrafted ales will revive and refresh history buffs to continue “doing time” in Jefferson City at Missouri’s Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, and Cole County Historical Society Museum.
All four capitol floors are open to the public without reservations, but a guided tour can be scheduled. The capitol’s first floor showcases the natural resources, people, and events that have forged this state. On the second floor are 40 half-moon paintings highlighting the powerful role the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers have played in this state’s growth. The House Lounge on the third floor tells the state’s history in murals by Thomas Hart Benton.
Nearby is the Governor’s Mansion, open for tours by reservation, and across the street from the mansion is the Cole County Historical Society and Museum, open 1-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Both tell the stories of the men, women, and children who lived and shaped the state.
After a day of walking and learning, tourists may enjoy fine dining at Ecco Lounge or Paddy Malone’s, both occupying historical buildings. Ecco Lounge has recently partnered with Three Story Coffee for tasty specials, including a Volcano Pork Shank rubbed with locally-roasted Three Story products. Paddy Malone’s, on the other hand, is a destination for true Irish Pub fare, whiskeys, and 12 ales, stouts, and lagers on tap.
“Doing time” in Jefferson City begins with preservation and ends with satisfaction. It’s a destination close to the Lake — one not to be missed.