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Joliet to host prison open house in August

For anyone who’s itching for a chance to visit the grounds of the old Joliet Prison, there’s an open house planned for this summer.

Word of the fundraising event was announced at a recent member luncheon put on by the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce Industry. The open house is the weekend of Aug. 24-26.

“We expect music,” Deputy City Manager Steve Jones said. “We expect Evil Intentions. Maybe some surprises from the [Joliet Area Historical] Museum. … Bottom line is, I think this would be the first, real hard opening of the prison.”

The old Joliet prison was shuttered in 2002. Since that time, the site has remained vacant.

After a report last summer of a second fire occurring on the prison site, the City decided it needed to take action to put the property to use and that the status quo was no longer acceptable.

In February, the Joliet City Council took action to approve a sublease agreement with Evil Intentions, enabling the Elgin-based entertainment company to bring haunts and spooks to the east prison site.

The property in question is made up by three parts: open lands, prison east and prison west.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said there’s a lot of interest in the prison and what’s going on over there.

“They say it’s one of the hottest pieces of property in the State of Illinois,” he said.

The City of Joliet and the Joliet Area Historical Museum over the last two years started working together to develop a long-term plan for the west prison site.

There is no funding in the City’s budget for the property, to date.

“We’re looking at a way to stabilize it, secure it, and try to develop a long-term plan for the site,” said Quinn Adamowski, vice president of the Joliet Area Historical Museum Board of Directors.

Joliet Area Historical Museum executive director Greg Peerbolte said the City has always talked about this site having its own “brand” and that’s a brand that’s been established for 150 years.

“This is part of the fabric of Joliet,” Peerbolte said. “This is part of our story, and that’s what really what fascinates me is how the community interacted with this facility over the years. Yes, you have the famous prisoners … but you also have 160 years of interaction with the community.”

The Collins Street Task Force has been working to attain historic preservation status for the prison site.

The City wants to disassociate the negative stereotypes the prison sometimes conjures.

“We want to make sure we’re also telling this story conscientiously, that this is a site of conscience and a site of respect for a tough topic to talk about,” Peerbolte said.

The City is looking to form a steering committee to help put together the open house.

All proceeds generated during the event will benefit the Joliet prison and its restoration fund.

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