Rising from the pine-dotted landscape along Highway 10 near St. Cloud stands an enduring landmark – the towering granite perimeter wall enclosing the Minnesota Correctional Facility.
First opened in 1889 as the Minnesota State Reformatory for Men ages 16-30, the prison facility was sited near local granite quarries with the intention to utilize inmate labor.
Construction Using Prisoner Power
Construction of the imposing 1.5 mile long barrier began in 1905 using granite quarried by the inmates themselves inside the prison grounds.
The labor was undoubtedly backbreaking as prisoners cut, hauled and carefully stacked the massive blocks using just hammers, chisels and block-and-tackle pulley systems.
At the base, the wall measures 4.5 feet thick then tapers to 3 feet wide along the parapet topping out at 22 feet high.
Enclosing a Self-Sufficient Penal Colony
The last stone was laid in 1922, completing the enclosure of 200 acres of prison property. By then, the facility had expanded well beyond its 19th century reformatory origins.
Within the thick granite walls, inmates not only quarried building materials but for decades ran a large dairy farm and cultivated potato fields as part of their regimented days.
Breach and Modern Security Upgrades
Four prisoners managed to breach the wall in 1957 by scaling it with bare hands and feet. Undoubtedly they took advantage of the ample foot and handholds in the aging mortar, which to this day needs extensive re-tuckpointing and repairs.
Inside the historic barrier, the facility has added a modern wire fence indicative of how prison technology has evolved.
Intake for Today’s Prison Population
The St. Cloud prison today serves as the central intake for the state’s entire male inmate population, assessing over 400 new prisoners per month on their way to other correctional institutions.
The granite behemoth that greets these new arrivals still serves as a towering reminder of the facility’s pioneering past.
- Minnesota Correctional Facility – St Cloud / Department of Corrections (mn.gov)
- St. Cloud prison: An overlooked historic trove (startribune.com)
- A Visit to the Longest Wall in Minnesota – Mpls.St.Paul Magazine (mspmag.com)
- Behind the Granite Wall: History of the St. Cloud Prison [VIDEO, PHOTOS] (wjon.com)