Where once 7000 inmates were housed in brick buildings the remarkable Lorton Arts Workhouse begins to form. The Lorton Prison complex had a long a long history in the Northern Virginia area dating back to the early 1900s. Originally designed as a working prison farm inmates raised cattle and chickens and built many of the brick buildings that are now being renovated. The bricks were made in kilns located on the property and one remains today. Over the years the nature of the prison changed and it became a location that most of us who live in the area learned to avoid. It closed as a prison in 2003 and the transformation of the 3200 acres began in earnest.
In 1917 the prison received its most famous inmates and recognition that it did not want. Over 150 women were arrested for protesting for the suffrage movement. Many of the women were transported to the prison and were kept in deplorable conditions and forced to eat. It is felt that the reports of their treatment helped the suffrage movement and eventually led to the winning vote for the 19th amendment.
The 55 acres set aside for the Lorton Arts Workhouse-a cultural arts center- is designed to promote the arts and arts education for local area residents. The original brick buildings are being renovated to provide art spaces reminiscent of the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. Designed to include studio space for and exhibition space for up to 150 artists the plan also includes cooperative programs with the new South County High School and Northern Virginia Community College.
Last month Mikhal Baryshnikov visited the site, the second Art Under Construction Exhibit just finished and the ArtStar Theater Youth Camp is underway. Currently it is hoped that the first of the buildings will be finished for opening in October with the last of the buildings opened for artists by Spring 2008.