Dates set for Joliet prison volunteer day, public open house

Brock A. Stein | 4/18/2018, 11:51 a.m.
Volunteers are working behind the walls of the Collins Street Prison in Joliet to get the former penitentiary ready for ...

Volunteers are working behind the walls of the Collins Street Prison in Joliet to get the former penitentiary ready for its public debut later this summer.

Much of that work so far has been to clear brush and other vegetation that had overgrown the grounds since the prison was shuttered in 2002 said City Economic Development Director Steve Jones.

“A lot of what you’re not seeing right now is happening behind the scenes,” said Jones of the cleanup efforts, describing the grounds as “a jungle.” He said that volunteers from Homer Tree Service have been working to clear pathways for the public who could begin to tour the site at the end of the summer.

“So folks can explore some of the areas of the prison that normally wouldn’t be accessible because of the brush,” said Jones on Tuesday night.

So far, volunteers from area trades organizations, and others with specialties have been volunteering their efforts but Jones said that the city has set a tentative 2-day volunteer event for residents to pitch in as well.

May 19 and 20 are the dates set, said Jones, for the volunteer days adding that more information would be coming from the city.

Jones said that the city hasn’t budgeted any funds for the cleanup and so far has done all of the work through the use of volunteers that have been organized by the city and the Joliet Area Historical Museum. He said that volunteers from the Three Rivers Construction Alliance pitched in on a recent Saturday and had to turn volunteers away.

“There’s no budget for this,” said Jones, “It’s been done by volunteers up to this point.”

Some of the debris at the site has also been collected by local artists who plan to turn the items in to artwork that will be sold to raise funds for future rehab work to the site.

On August 24-26, the city is also planning a public unveiling of the site with an event called “The Great Joliet Prison Break in,” a three-night event that will include food, music and other entertainment that will also raise money for more restoration said Jones.

The event will also include the first legal public access to the prison for tours. A ribbon cutting is also planned for Evil Intentions, the haunted house that will operate in the former women’s prison portion of the grounds starting in the fall.

Jones said that plans for the August event also include booking a musical headliner to help raise money for the restoration as well.

On Sunday, August 26, which is the 200th anniversary of the state’s founding, Governor Bruce Rauner will kick off a memorial motorcycle ride to the state capital that will start at the Joliet prison and travel down historic Route 66.

In addition, Jones said that the city’s prison committee was in talks to develop 100 acres of wooded areas and two quarry lakes on the prison property as open space for use by the public.