Although Virginia has a long and rich past, some of its historical places have a darker past than others. The Lorton Reformatory, a former prison that has seen horrifying incidents and torture throughout the years, is one such location. The prison is now dilapidated and abandoned, yet anyone brave enough to investigate it finds themselves haunted by its sinister past.
The Lorton Reformatory: A Failed Experiment in Prison Reform
Constructed in 1910 as an industrial farm or workhouse, the Lorton Reformatory was intended to use hard physical labor as a means of rehabilitation for medium-security convicts. The inmates constructed the prison themselves, using locally produced bricks. Additionally, there was a women’s workhouse within the prison, where inmates faced charges related to infractions including prostitution, disorderly conduct, or intoxication.
But the prison quickly descended into violence, filth, and overcrowding. The inmates endured terrible treatment, horrible living circumstances, and frequent escapes. The terrible notoriety of the prison also stemmed from its hosting of the Night of Terror, a sequence of horrifying events that took place on November 15, 1917.
The Night of Terror: A Horrible Chapter in Women s Suffrage History
Thirty-three National Woman’s Party members were arrested that evening for picketing outside the White House in support of women’s voting rights. They were brought to the Lorton Reformatory, where officials and jail guards treated them cruelly and tortured them. The women were forced to ingest raw eggs via tubes while being bound, beaten, and stabbed. Some of them experienced trauma and long-term injuries as a result of the incident.
One of the most horrifying and deplorable moments in the history of the women’s suffrage movement was the Night of Terror. In addition, it aroused popular indignation and empathy for the suffragists, who would go on to win the right to vote in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified.
The Lorton Reformatory Today: A Ghostly Reminder of the Past
The Lorton Reformatory was operational until 2001, when it was ultimately shut down because of human rights violations and declining conditions. After that, the prison was allowed to deteriorate and rot, drawing interest from graffiti artists, urban explorers, and ghost seekers. The ghosts of the guards and former prisoners are also said to haunt the jail, lingering around the corridors and cells.
Still, not every area of the jail complex has been abandoned. The maximum security institution, which was formerly a component of the criminal justice system, has been converted into the commercial and residential Laurel Crest mixed-use development area. The former jail now coexists with the contemporary town, creating a stark contrast between the old and the new.
Behind its doors, the Lorton Reformatory is a location with a horrible past. It is a site where the worst of human cruelty and injustice have been observed, along with the bravery and tenacity of the women who have battled for their rights. This location currently serves as both a spectral remembrance of the past and a positive indication of the future. Given its historical significance to Virginia, it is a location that merits both exploration and respect.