Former prison camp in Fairfax County, Virginia; part of D.C.'s Department of Corrections for many years.
The Reformatory dates back to 1910, when the United States government purchased land on the banks of the Occoquan River to build an Occoquan Workhouse for D.C. prisoners. The buildings were built using inmate labor, using wood cut by the inmates themselves, and bricks made at the on-site brickyard. The Progressive reformatory approach to corrections was still popular, and in 1913, the original Reformatory section was built near the workhouse.
The facility's first bad press came in 1917, with the imprisonment of protesting suffragettes at the facility. They were treated badly there, and as news leaked out of their plight, the support of their cause grew. This was one of the events that led to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
As time went on, the Progressive idea waned, and the more conservative idea of "hard time" came back into vogue; the first penitentiary facilities were built in 1930, and by 1970, the entire corrections part of the complex had become a hard-core prison (and the Reformatory name now referred to the entire complex).
In addition to the brickyards and the homemade lumber, the complex also had farms where the inmates raised their own crops, recreational facilities, and more. Some of the Nike missile sites, built during the Cold War to protect D.C. from a possible Soviet attack, were also on the land; one was converted from Army barracks into a minimum-security section later on.
Other facilities on the land include the I-95 Landfill, with its prominent incinerator smokestack visible as far away as Woodbridge, VA; and Occoquan Regional Park, which was cut from the south side of the facility in the mid-1990s, and still has one of the old brick kilns standing as a monument to the inmates that built it. Also on the land is the historic Laurel Hill house. Built in 1766, it was the residence of Revolutionary War figure Major William Lindsay.
By the late 1980s, the urban sprawl of the Washington suburbs was finally encroaching on the Reformatory's boundaries. Local residents and landowners, fearful for their land values and their safety (understandably, since Lorton had a history of escapes), had made their concerns known to the Fairfax County government, and in 1991, the Board of Supervisors recommended the closure and redevelopment of the complex. Finally, in 1997, the decision to close Lorton was made, and the inmates were shipped over time to privately-owned prisons in the Midwest, and also back to the D.C. Jail.
As of now (October 2001), the Reformatory is eerily quiet. Very few people are around, and the only activity inside the fences is from animals on the land. The land where the old medium-security prison stood was transferred to the Fairfax County Water Authority, and the new Griffith Water Treatment Plant (the replacement to the Lorton Treatment Facilities, which are over 50 years old) is being built there. The old Occoquan Facilities, across Ox Road from the water plant site, are still standing, and may be converted into a museum. There's been talk of restoring one or all of the Nike sites, again as a museum (much like the restored site in San Francisco). Some 300 acres have been marked for sale to developers and for schools, and houses are being built on it now; the rest is to be re-zoned as a park.
Credits: Some of the historical info came from http://propertydisposal.gsa.gov/lorton/