Iowa Men's Reformatory Historic District

Also known as: Additional Penitentiary, The Reformatory
North High Street, Anamosa, Iowa

Gothic revival limestone prison, both imposing and impressive in design and construction


Administration Building

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in September 2012



Street View 


In April of 1872, the State of Iowa determined that an additional penitentiary might be needed and appointed a committee to locate such a facility. The committee chose 15 acres within the city limits of Anamosa, and construction began shortly thereafter. Included in the land grant were 61 acres of farmland and three quarries that were the source of the limestone that went into the construction of the prison.

For many years, it was known as the Iowa Men's Reformatory, although there was also a women's facility located here. (Women are no longer housed at the prison.)

The exploits of many of the residents of this facility make for interesting reading. The colorful descriptions from 19th Century newspaper clippings are almost as amusing as they are historical. The Anamosa Journal used flowery language to describe a tough and violent criminal's death in the prison with the headline, "An Ignominious Death In Prison - the End of a Wasted Career; Fifty Years Spent in a Life of Outlawry, Crime and Murder Brought to a Close."

There are hundreds of such stories on inmates at the ASP (Anamosa State Penitentiary) including the short life of Caroline Thomas, arrested in Des Moines for keeping "…a house of ill repute…" according to a newspaper report of April 6, 1893. Thomas died in prison at the age of 22 and was buried in the potter's field of Anamosa's Riverside Cemetery.

At one time, there was a cheese factory located on the prison grounds, where trustees were allowed to work for a master cheese-maker. That building is extant and today serves as refrigerated storage for the prison and also as the prison museum.

Designed to look like a castle in the Gothic revival style, the impressive structure is an imposing place - not much of a surprise for a prison. The guard towers, which look modernly out of place on the limestone castle walls, are not accessible from inside the prison. The museum stands next to the prison wall, it is open limited hours.

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; 1875-1899; 1925-1949
Significant years
1877; 1907
Number of properties
Contributing buildings: 18
Contributing structures: 1
Non-contributing buildings: 2
Non-contributing objects: 1

Update Log 

  • July 23, 2014: New Street View added by Dave King
  • October 14, 2012: Updated by J.R. Manning: Added description and added photographs.