South Carolina Penitentiary

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The South Carolina Penitentiary was a historic structure located on seven acres at 1511 Williams Street, adjacent to the Congaree River. in Columbia, Richland County, South Carolina. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on January 4, 1996.

Built circa 1866, this institution served as the primary state prison from then until 1994, for nearly 130 years.[1] It has since been demolished, and it was removed from the NRHP on December 8, 2005.


Construction of the penitentiary was approved by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1866. Initial construction took place in 1867.[2] The first permanent building was the South Wing Cell Block, which served as a cell block until 1927 when it was demolished. Started around the same time, North Wing Cell Block or as it is more commonly known, Cell Block One, was completed in 1886.[3] North Wing stood five stories tall, built from granite with the tops of the walls crenellated. The interior was essentially an Auburn style cell block, but in the Baltimore pattern variation where the cells lined the exterior. Interior shower stalls were located on the north wall. The cells were approximately 5'x6' with a ceiling height of 6.5' and door openings of 25". The metal catwalks were attached on the exterior of the cell block and was 3 Ft. in width. This was, much later, followed by heavy wire fencing material and a guard rail on each tier.

The initial complex comprised two cell blocks and an administrative building. It would later evolve into a more diverse institution, including a hospital and separate blocks for females and juvenile inmates. Significant structures include the boundary wall, made of granite and brick, the North Wing Cell Block, the electric chair building, the Richards building, and the Chair Factory building.

Historical significance[edit]

This was the first state penitentiary in South Carolina and was essentially the start of the state's penal system. In the past, all jailing had been handled by counties, which were financially ill-equipped after the Civil War. The penitentiary was also created partly in response to the freeing of slaves who had previously been disciplined by slave holders rather than by a criminal-justice system, making for a greater strain on the counties.

The penitentiary remained the only maximum-security prison until 1975. Due to extreme over crowding at this time, 100 temporary cells were placed on the floor of the main cell block. The Richards Building was subdivided between its two floors: upper left became Employee Personnel & upper left became Training Section; lower floor was staff offices and band room.

Capital punishment[edit]

From 1912 to 1990, death row was housed at the State Penitentiary changing over historically to Central Correctional Institution in Columbia. Prior to shutting down the penitentiary, the death house was moved to a newer facility at Broad River Correctional Institution, in January 1990. The first electrocution took place on August 6, 1912. Prior to that date, state executions were carried out by means of hanging in individual counties.[4]

Death row for men now resides at Lieber Correctional Institution. The state's death row for women is located at the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution.

243 people were executed by electric chair before the South Carolina Penitentiary closed.[5] The youngest person executed was 14-year-old George Stinney, Jr. His 1944 death marked the youngest lawful execution in the United States during the 20th century. (In December 2014, seventy years later, the child's conviction was vacated; see George Stinney article.)

See also[edit]


Coordinates: 34°00′09″N 81°03′04″W / 34.002548°N 81.051233°W / 34.002548; -81.051233