Kansas City Workhouse – Kansas City, Missouri - Atlas Obscura

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Kansas City Workhouse

This abandoned prison castle has become an imposing gallery of graffiti art. 


Sitting dead-eyed and empty in a historic portion of Kansas City, Missouri, the mouldering medieval-styled Kansas City Workhouse looks like it comes from a different time period on the outside, but the interior of the vacant hulk is covered in graffiti that belies its more modern origins. 

The towered stone fortress on Vine Street was originally built back in 1897 and was actually referred to as the “workhouse castle.” The jail put its inmates to work for the local public works, the very first of which being the creation of the jail itself which was built by the first prisoners who mined the limestone building blocks right out of the ground. Prisoners in the jail tended to be petty offenders such as beggars and drunks from around the city. The medieval European design of the fortress was not only considered trendy at the time but it also gave the site an air of imposing authority.

After a few decades in operation the prison closed its doors for the first time, passing over to over a dozen new owners over the ensuing decades. It was not until 1972 that the castle was shuttered for the last time and it was abandoned.

Left empty, the crumbling structure began simply a local oddity sitting just off the street. Graffiti artists soon found their way in and began tagging up the walls. In recent years, plans have been put forth to turn the workhouse into a community center and venue, but nothing has begun yet. For now the walls remained decorated by the same minor offenders that would once have been incarcerated between them.   

Know Before You Go

The Building is right on the street but is no longer accessible, please view from the street and do not trespass.  

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