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Joliet awarded National Park Service grant for Old Joliet Prison

Sep 1, 2021
In The News

The City of Joliet has received notice of an award of a $35,000 grant from the National Park Service to prepare a National Register Historic District nomination for the Illinois State Penitentiary – Joliet (later renamed Joliet Correctional Center, commonly known as the “Old Joliet Prison”). The project is being supported in part by an Underrepresented Communities grant from the Historic Preservation Fund administered by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. The National Register Historic District nomination for the Illinois State Penitentiary – Joliet is one of 17 projects in the nation funded through the National Park Service’s 2020 Underrepresented Community Grant Program.

The National Park Service’s Underrepresented Community Grant Program (URC) works towards diversifying the nominations submitted to the National Register of Historic Places. Projects include surveys and inventories of historic properties associated with communities underrepresented in the National Register, as well as the development of nominations to the National Register for specific sites.

The 180-acre Illinois State Penitentiary – Joliet is a unique and iconic historic resource for its Castellated Gothic Revival style architecture and use of Joliet Limestone; for its history as a penal institution; for its infamous former inmates; and its place in popular culture resulting from movies, television, literature and song. The architecture and design of the main Penitentiary and Women's Prison as well as the philosophies and practices of incarceration and prison reform carried out within its walls and grounds make it a significant local, state, and national historic resource that should be preserved. The Penitentiary is also significant as a place of conscience in our nation's racial and ethnic history as minority populations have historically been overrepresented in the penal system. The forthcoming nomination will expressly detail the Penitentiary’s role in racial bias, equity, and criminal justice reform –past and present. The information generated from the research and writing of this nomination will advance dialogue of these critical societal topics. The Penitentiary site can offer a platform for teaching and discussion of these topics as well.

Upon learning of this grant award, Congressman Bill Foster stated: “the Old Joliet Prison is an important and beloved element of the heritage of our region, our state, and the nation. It is at once a reminder of Joliet's rough-and-tumble history, of past injustices in our penal system, and of the power of film, music and laughter to bring people together. I was proud to support the Old Joliet Prison project during the National Park Service’s grant allocation process, and I am thrilled that the City of Joliet was chosen to receive this award.”

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk was similarly enthused, commenting: “the City of Joliet is committed to preserving this important piece of history, and we are excited to see our efforts supported once again by our federal partners through the NPS grant. We would like to thank our local, state and federal elected officials for their support with our grant application”

Future listing of the Penitentiary on the NRHP will support the City’s economic development efforts by generating additional interest in this iconic site and thus drawing more visitor spending into the neighborhoods that surround the Penitentiary site. Future listing on the NRHP would enable the Penitentiary to be eligible for more grant funding opportunities as well as federal and state historic tax credits for qualified projects, which are vitally needed for our ongoing stabilization efforts.

For more information about the project, please contact Jayne M. Bernhard, City Planner and Staff Liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission. or (815) 724-4052.