Workhouse Arts Center

Workhouse Arts Center, Former Occoquan Workhouse, Lorton Reformatory, Laurel Hill, Virginia

Workhouse Arts Center, Former Occoquan Workhouse, Lorton Reformatory, Laurel Hill, Virginia

– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –

Workhouse Arts Center

The Workhouse Arts Center is in Lorton, Virginia. It is housed in the buildings of the former Occoquan Workhouse portion of the Lorton Reformatory, part of the District of Columbia’s Department of Corrections.

The history of the Workhouse began a little over 100 years ago. At the instigation of President Theodore Roosevelt, a special Penal Commission was formed in 1908 to investigate the overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the DC jail and workhouse.

Workhouse Arts Center, Former Occoquan Workhouse, Lorton Reformatory, Laurel Hill, Virginia

Workhouse Arts Center, Former Occoquan Workhouse, Lorton Reformatory, Laurel Hill, Virginia

– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –

The Commission recommended, and Congress approved, the purchase of a 1,155-acre piece of land north of the Occoquan River in Fairfax County, Virginia. The land was acquired in 1910. When the first 29 prisoners arrived by barge in the summer of 1910 they were housed in tents on the banks of the Occoquan River. The first buildings were made of wood which the prisoners cut and built themselves. These wooden buildings were replaced by the Colonial Revival brick buildings seen today during the 1920s. As with the original structures, the prisoners were the only labor used. They made the bricks and build the dormitories, mess hall and administration buildings.

The workhouse officially closed in 1968. The majority of the buildings were turned over the the DC Department of Public Health for an Alcoholic Rehab Center. In 1983 this Rehab Center closed. Fences and guard towers were built and the property once again became a prison. By the late 1980s the medium-security Lorton Correctional Facility was known more for overcrowding and disorganization than any of the reforms Roosevelt had hoped for when the facility was first constructed. Things got so bad that in 1997 Federal legislation was passed requiring the facility closed by December 31, 2001. The last prisoner left Lorton in November 2001.

Workhouse Arts Center, Former Occoquan Workhouse, Lorton Reformatory, Laurel Hill, Virginia

Workhouse Arts Center, Former Occoquan Workhouse, Lorton Reformatory, Laurel Hill, Virginia

– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –

After closing, the land was sold to Fairfax County. In 2002, the then Lorton Arts Foundation put forward a plan to the County to transform the buildings of the Correctional Facility into a cultural arts center. In July 2004, the Fairfax County approved the rezoning of 55-acres of the site allowing it to become the Workhouse Arts Center. After rehabilitation and renovation of the historic structures, the Workhouse Arts Center opened to the public in September 2008.

Workhouse Arts Center, Former Occoquan Workhouse, Lorton Reformatory, Laurel Hill, Virginia

Workhouse Arts Center, Former Occoquan Workhouse, Lorton Reformatory, Laurel Hill, Virginia

– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –

The Workhouse Arts Center currently consists of six artist studio buildings, the main galleries, the Youth Arts Center and W-3 Theatre, Art of Movement building and Metropolitan School of the Arts. The project supports over 100 professional and emerging artists, providing them affordable studios and galleries in which to exhibit their work. As opposed to most passive arts experiences, visitors are encouraged to interact with the artists when they visit. In addition to visual arts, the Workhouse Arts Center is home to performing arts, including theater, film Institute, musical and dance performances. The Workhouse also offers over 400 arts education classes and workshops in a broad spectrum of art disciplines.

In the next post we will see some of the other buildings that surround the Arts Center that seem to date from the period after the closure of the Rehab Center in 1983.

Summary
Workhouse Arts Center
Article Name
Workhouse Arts Center
Description
The Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia is housed in the buildings of the former Occoquan Workhouse portion of the Lorton Reformatory
Author
Publisher Name
Mark Summerfield
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