The Wheeling Register, Feb. 3, 1879
Upon invitation of Captain Bridges, the efficient and affable head of the State Penitentiary at Moundsville, the members of the Senate and House of Delegates, with numerous friends of both sexes, visited that institution Saturday. The joint Committee on the Penitentiary went on an inspecting tour, to audit the books, obtain the views of the Superintendent, and look into the practical workings of the system now in vogue there. The other members, and the ladies and gentlemen who accompanied them, went merely for a pleasure trip, or from curiosity. It is remotely possible that the novelty of a picnic in a State prison was somewhat of an attraction. At any rate, we think all of the party were well repaid for the trouble in pleasure and sight-seeing.
A special train on the B. & O. road at half-past nine conveyed the merry crowd to its destination. The sight, as they filed out of the train and marched through Moundsville to the Bastile, drew out all the citizens, and a goodly number of them accompanied the visitors. Capt. Bridges and his family accorded a gracious reception to the delegation, and they were invited to make free use of the handsome parlors of their residence.
The shops were first visited. Here some of the prisoners were found at work at making whips of all kinds and sizes. This factory is the largest devoted exclusively to the manufacture of whips in the world. Others were at work on brooms, of which large numbers are annually turned out. The cigar makers are under contract from the State to outside parties; as we believe is also the wagon shop. Here was found a complete factory of wagons from the wood and the metal in the rough. All of the work in all departments we inspected, was of good quality, and made in workmanlike manner.
The cell building, which was next visited, was not occupied at all, all of the men being out at work or serving in some capacity about the establishment.
When the dinner bell sounded, the visitors were invited into the yard, through which the prisoners were marked to dinner. They walked in single file, with locked step, and marched with the finest military precision. Just outside the dining hall long wooden troughs were ranged, and here the prisoners were halted and faced toward this novel wash basin. At a word from the guard they all splashed into the water and washed their faces and hands thoroughly, each wiping with towel which he carried. These are renewed every day. When all are through a command from the guard again starts them marching, when they are filed into the dining hall. This is a monster room with three tables, each extending its entire length. Each prisoner is provided with a knife, fork and spoon, and when done eating, turns about on his bench, and holds these up in constant sight. They seat themselves and preserve perfect stillness until a signal gong is struck by a guard, when all "pitch in" at once, and the way victuals fly would horrify a boarding-house keeper. The prisoners on Saturday had beef, corn-bread and coffee. Each man is given all he wants and none are hurried at meals. A want is expressed by holding up the hand, no word being spoken during the entire meal. When all are done, the gong is struck, and the prisoners rise and file out, each depositing his knife, fork and spoon in separate boxes by the door under the eye of a guard. It was a sad sight to see two hundred and forty silent, strange men, some of them perhaps no worse than some of those who watched them with idle curiosity, marked to their meals like beasts to their fodder, not saying any word to the equally silent waiters, their fellow convicts. And yet the men are no doubt as well cared for as is possible for men to be whose sin has made necessary their isolation from society. They all, or the few who were allowed to converse with acquaintances among the visitors, expressed great respect for Captain Bridges and the other officials of the prison, and seemed more contented than could be expected.
After the convicts had eaten, Speaker Moffett announced dinner for the guests in the dining hall above, and the crowd consequently adjourned there and did ample justice to the superintendent's really excellent repast. The hours from then till train time were spent variously. Some of the visitors went to inspect the famous mound, near the prison. One of the ladies seated herself at the piano, and to the merry music she made, the younger members of the party tripped the light fantastic. Some of the country members won a reputation for "ways that are dark, and tricks" that no one else could take, at the "game they did not understand." All passed the time pleasantly, and were sorry when the locomotive's whistle called them homeward.
U. S. Senators Davis and Hereford joined the party at Moundsville, having gotten off the west-bound train a few moments before the arrival of the excursion. Dr. Camden, Hon. C. J. Faulkner and other notables were also with the party.
The Penitentiary Committee expressed themselves highly pleased with the management of the institution in the past year, and seemed convinced, as did all the party, that Captain Bridges is the right man in the right place. If at another session our honorable Legislature visits the penitentiary, "may we be there to see."
There are five women in the penitentiary.
There is only one printer in the Moundsville penitentiary. He is fortunate, but must nevertheless be lonely. It is not often printers can associate with such good company.
Among the excursionists Saturday were Hon. W. L. Hearne, Sheriff Tingle, Colonel W. W. Miller, Dr. Harvey, and Adjutant General E. J. Wood.
The following are the ladies of the party, so far as we could learn their names: Miss Camden, daughter of Dr. Camden; Mary Walker, Bell McCoy, Tillie McKennan, Lillie Mendel, Dora Hildreth, Mollie List, Kate Wise, Juliet McLure, Ella Burger, Jennie Coen, Hannah Whalley, and Mrs. Henry Brues.
Several of the legislators seemed to be well acquainted with the convicts. One Senator complimented a convict from his county, saying that he was a "a good, sober, conscientious man." "Why," said Senator Davis, "are that kind of men so scarce in your part of the country that you send them them to the penitentiary?"
The convicts make good waiters. They served the visitors handsomely, and seemed to enjoy the novelty of the situation. They were allowed to talk while so engaged.
Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and partially funded by Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.