AKA: Oregon State Penitentiary, Portland, OR

Structure Type: built works - social and civic buildings - correctional institutions - prisons

Designers: Hallock, Absalom, B., Architect (firm); Absalom Barrett Hallock (architect)

Dates: constructed 1854-1856


Pioneer Portland architect Absalom B. Hallock worked on the design and construction of this poorly planned and managed penitentiary for the Territory of Oregon during the period 1853 until about 1856. It functioned in Portland from 1856 until 1866, before the State of Oregon relocated it to Salem.

Building History

According to the State of OR Employment Department, Oregon had a previous territorial penitentiary prior to this one in Portland erected between 1853 and 1856. The first was built in 1842 in Oregon City, OR, and may have functioned for a number of year, until the planning for a new one in Portland began in 1851. (See State of Oregon Employment Department, "Correctional Institutions in Oregon Since 1842," accessed 02/06/2023.)

Management of the building project by a Board of Penitentiary Commissioners went badly from the start, and three sets of commissioners were appointed by the Territorial Legislature between 1851 and 1856. (See "History of Oregon's Prison Marked by Uncertainty," Salem Capital Journal, 07/02/1938, Capital Journal Golden Anniversary and Capitol Occupation Edition, p. 6.) The Territorial Legislature set aside $85,000 for the construction of the building. By 1853, Absalom Hallock had been consulted on producing a plan for the prison, and was requested to scale back the cost of the building. Hallock likely changed the design from an all-stone-walled facility to one composed of less expensive brick walls. Territorial receipts indicated that Hallock was in part responsible for providing the brick used beginning in the spring of 1856.

The Oregon State Hstorical Library has multiple letters from Hallock to state officials regarding the plans and contracts for the penitentiary dating from 07/23/1853 and 12/09/1853. It also has a letter of 09/05/1855 that detailed construction progress on the building, and a letter of 12/03/1856 regarding the penitentiary fund. (See Ancestry.com, Source Citation Oregon Historical Society; Portland, OR; Index Collection: Territorial and Provisional Government Papers Index, accessed 02/06/2023.)

PCAD id: 24583