was closed in February of 2002 after 178 years of housing inmates. In 1823, construction of the prison was approved by the Legislature. It was opened officially in July, 1824 to serve as a penitentiary where convicts were sentenced to hard labor for life or for any terms of time not less than one year. The prison had always been a maximum security facility for adult felons. At one time, women were sentenced to the Maine State Prison, but were moved to the Women’s Correctional Center in Skowhegan in 1935.
The site in Thomaston, known as “Limestone Hill,” was chosen for three reasons: prison labor could be used for the manufacture of limestone; the site was accessible by a primary means of travel for the time, the St. George River; and it was centrally located within a reasonable distance from the three most populous areas of the state – Portland, Bangor, and Augusta.
“Thomaston,” as it was referred to by law enforcement personnel and inmates alike, originally contained 50 cells, nine feet long, four and one-half feet wide, ten feet high, covered with stone. One small opening allowed for air; another, for light and access. In 1828 twenty additional cells were added. When another twenty cells followed in 1843, conventional cellblocks were built since the underground cells were, by then, viewed as inhumane. Some of the originals were, however, retain for punishment. After a fire in 1850, an expanded prison was completed in 1854.
On September 23, 1923, the hundred year-old prison was again largely destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt and re-dedicated within a year, on September 11, 1924.
Between 1862 and 1885, when capital punishment was finally abolished, seven prisoners were executed by hanging at the prison. Hanging were held at noon on Fridays under the supervision of the Sheriff of Knox County.
The first warden, Dr. Daniel Rose, was followed by approximately thirty-six others. The last, Jeffrey Merrill, continued as warden at the new Maine State Prison at Warren. The previous warden, Martin Magnusson, became Commissioner of Corrections.
According to an informational summary, prepared by the Prison at its closing and the major source for this article, noted that the last inmates “and their predecessors has served a total of 22,300,000 days at Thomaston between 1824 and the prison’s closure on February 14, 2002.”
This institution and the new State Prison in Warren have been administered by the Maine Department of Corrections.
Source: Maine State Prison: Thomaston 1824-2002. pamphlet. February. 2002; and the Maine Department of Corrections.