Iowa State Penitentiary Cellhouses Historic District

Also known as: Cellhouse 18, Cellhouse 19, Cellhouse 20
Jct. of Avenue G and US 61, Fort Madison, Iowa

19th Century Fortress-like Maximum Security Prison


Photo taken by J.R. Manning in October 2013



Street View 


The Iowa State Penitentiary (ISP) is a maximum security prison for men. ISP is one component located on this campus, the ISP itself is a 550 person maximum security unit. Also located on the campus is a John Bennett Correctional Center - a 169 person medium security unit.

The prison was established in 1839, seven years before Iowa statehood. The gothic, castle-like facility is an imposing structure that was modeled after the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York. The Auburn facility is the oldest operating prison in the United States.

Prior to the abolition of capital punishment in Iowa, executions were performed at the ISP. The last prisoner executed here was a drifter named Victor Feguer, convicted of the murder of Dr. Edward Bartels, of Dubuque, on July 11, 1960. Feguer lured Dr. Bartels to his rented room, kidnapped him, and drove him to Illinois where he shot and killed the doctor. Feguer was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, when he attempted to sell Dr. Bartels' car. Because Feguer crossed state lines, the crime became a federal case. He was held at the Leavenworth federal prison and returned here for the last ten days of his life because Leavenworth was not equipped for executions.

Many appeals, including one to President John F. Kennedy, were turned down. Feguer was put to death by hanging on March 15, 1963, the last inmate in the Federal prison system to be put to death until Timothy McVeigh at the Terre Haute, Indiana Federal Prison in 2001. Feguer was the last person in Iowa to be executed as Iowa abolished the death penalty in 1965.

The Fort Madison facility is one of the oldest prisons in the country and will be replaced in 2014. Construction of the new prison began in 2010 and was completed in October 2013. Transition will begin sometime in 2014 (the dates are being withheld) and, according to prison officials, should be complete by July 2014.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 18, 1992
Reference number
Architectural style
Victorian: Romanesque
Areas of significance
Law; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic function
Correctional facility
Current function
Correctional facility
Periods of significance
1900-1924; 1925-1949
Significant years
1913; 1925; 1931
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 3

Update Log 

  • April 6, 2017: New Street View added by Bill Eichelberger
  • November 4, 2013: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated Status, Added Description and Added Photos