The Kansas City Workhouse, also known as the “Vine Street Workhouse”, is located at 21st and Vine in Kansas City, Missouri. It was also called “Brant’s Castle”, after Major Alfred Brant, Superintendant of the Kansas City Workhouse. What is a workhouse you might ask? It is a prison facility for petty criminals to work off their sentences. The workhouse was built in 1897 to replace the old workhouse which was located across the street. The old workhouse was unfit for humans according to newspaper articles of the time. The overcrowding was so bad the mayor had pardoned many prisoners on the grounds of humanity. It was also a fire trap as each cell was keyed differently. In the event of a fire, it would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to get all the prisoners out. They used prisoners to quarry the stone used for the new building from the on-site quarry. They were not allowed to help with the actual construction of the prison. I’m sure it was hard work but I’m just as sure some felt relieved to be outdoors and not cramped up in a small cell with sometimes up to 8 or 9 other prisoners.
So you might wonder why they designed a prison to look like a castle? According to newspaper articles there was no real reason for it. They wanted it to be a substanial building and different from other public buildings in this area of the country. Since it didn’t cost anymore to make it look like a castle then it would to make it look like a normal prison, they went for it. They were able to complete the project for $30,000. It remained a workhouse until 1918 when they converted it into city office space. It was used in that capacity until the 1970’s. At that time, the city abandoned it. They bricked up the doors and windows and tore out the floors. It is pretty much just a shell of a building now. If you do get a chance to go see it, make sure you go in the daytime and don’t go alone. It isn’t located in the best part of town.