Those of us who grew up in the 60s became familiar with Jackson's old prison – called the 'Jackson Armory' at the time - because that's where some of the city's best rock concerts and dances were held. “The Armory Dances Are Back!” blared WIBM's radio ads in the late 60s. And boy, they sure were. Any local Mid-Michigan band, no matter how lousy they were, all played at the armory. Every weekend, the place was packed with kids, hucksters, soul, rock, pop, and pimples.

At the time, we had no clue of this building's rich history...we only knew it as the 'armory'.

It began construction in 1842 and Jackson as a city grew around it. Right from the start it was overcrowded until 1876 when new prisons popped up in Ionia and Marquette. With four cell blocks and a dorm, the prison held 2,200 inmates.

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The prison housed female prisoners until 1852.
Seven convicts escaped the very first year.
New prison was built three miles north in 1926.

In 1840, ten convicts escaped and stopped at a farm. They ended up beating the farmer with his own gun and leaving him on the road. The leader of the ten was killed by a neighboring farmer,  seven of them were caught, and two were never captured.

Then in 1912, the worst riot in the prison's history happened. On September 1, trouble started in the mess hall with men smashing their plates, throwing food, and starting fights. It kept getting worse until the National Guard was called in and after six days of rioting, it finally came to an end. Ninety inmates were accused of leading and continuing the riot.

There's so much more to say about it, but let's get to the gallery. The photos include some rarely seen shots of the inside (we've all seen the outside numerous times) including the mess hall, the 1912 riot, the bakery, classroom, chapel, vineyard, spinning room, and a few others.

Old Jackson State Prison, Early 1900s


Jackson County Poor Farm/Infirmary

Jackson's Downtown Store Signs, Closeup: Early 1900s

"Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" Written in Michigan

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