Bars Rattling

Bars Rattling

Trees on the roof, vines growing
from the windows, the only life
in a prison closed in the Flood of ’93,
the big one. Imagine it’s haunted,
calling to the river. Listen closely.
The river is back, and the bars
are rattling underwater. Waves
lap at the walls in response,
and the vines flourish.

Taken March 23, 1986 and found at Vox Magazine.

Photo found at Columbia Daily Tribune.

Photo found at Vox Magazine.

Built in 1926 in an area then known as Cedar City, Renz Prison Farm was part of the Missouri prison system, becoming an all women’s prison by 1990. Standing on the Missouri River floodplain and abandoned during the Great Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Flood of 1993, when the river remained above flood stage for more than 60 days, it sits empty. The land is now privately owned, and the building is surrounded by 500 acres of farmland (and the trees and vines that have taken hold). Costly asbestos removal stands in the way of any demolition. Marked “No Trespassing,” the building is known to be visited by “urban explorers,” and is used occasionally by law enforcement for active shooter training. Current flood waters on the Missouri river are six feet lower than the 1993 level, but still 9 feet above flood stage, so the “lake” surrounding the prison likely will be around for a few more days.

1993 flood photos, with Jefferson City across the bridge in the distance.

The top photo is mine, taken May 27, 2019.
Graph and 1993 flood images found at National Weather Service.
(Clicking on each photo will open a tab with a larger view.)

Ken G.

12 thoughts on “Bars Rattling

  1. Fascinating. One would think the State of MO and/or its prison system would be mandated to remove asbestos (in this case clearly “disturbed”, thus probably “active”) given its associated dangers … rather than send in trainees to shoot at each other and stir up the asbestos! Likely not their highest priority.

    I’m curious about the women who were prisoners there in 1993 … did they all make it out alive? There must be some intriguing stories – both personal and logistical – associated with such an evacuation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Vox Magazine link under the photos provides some interesting history. Until it closed and relocated outside of Jefferson City in 2006, Missouri State Penitentiary was the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi. This prison farm, across the river, was able to meet the needs of the main prison. It became co-ed in 1975 and all-female in 1990. The basement already was underwater when they started the evacuation. Trucks parked on high ground and flat-bottom boats ferried the prisoners out over two days. I think it’s pretty interesting that the state was able to sell the property to a local farmer without any abatement. Hazards now include the asbestos once hidden beneath the flaking paint on the walls and gaping holes in the upper floor, so trespassing is discouraged (of course).

      Side note: James Earl Ray was an escapee (convicted of murder) when he assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. He was working in the prison bakery at the State Penitentiary when he hid in a compartment of a bakery truck that was going to the prison farm.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The image at the top seems calm, but I can imagine the ghosts.
    Such a strange history–tied to the environment.
    (Philadelphia has Eastern State Penitentiary, which is now a museum. I always feel like it’s haunted.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City closed in 2004 and has tours, including a haunted/ghost tour. I see from it’s website that no tours are on the calendar into the fall. It was in the path of the recent tornado, and actually had one of it’s massive stone perimeter walls knocked down,

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh. . .I imagine the ghosts were not pleased. 😉
        They’ve done a lot of paranormal type things at Eastern State, too. It was built in the early nineteenth-century–the first “penitentiary.” In the fall, they do a Halloween haunted thing at nights. I’ve never gone to it.

        Liked by 1 person

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