You are here

Texas State Penitentiary, Huntsville Unit (“Walls Unit”)

-A A +A
1849, Abner Cook; c. 1890, Eugene T. Heiner. 815 12th St.

The state legislature established a state prison system in 1848 and selected Huntsville as the site. The first prisoners, a cattle thief, a murderer, and a horse thief, arrived on October 1, 1849. The nickname “Walls Unit,” synonymous in Texas with death row, is derived from the red brick walls of the two-story buildings added by Heiner, who was noted for his design of county jails in addition to his courthouses. Enclosing walls and guard towers are also red brick, making a forbidding, monotone appearance.

In the jail’s early years, when inmates were required to work to lessen the burden on taxpayers, a cotton and woolen mill was installed on the prison grounds in 1853. During the Civil War, prisoners made fabric for tents and uniforms for the Confederacy. A convict lease system operated from 1866 to 1910 for prisoner work in the private sector.

Administrative headquarters for the Texas Prison System is in Huntsville, along with the death chamber. Execution was by hanging at county jails until 1923, after which all executions were conducted by the state in Huntsville and the method changed to the electric chair and later to lethal injection.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.


What's Nearby


Gerald Moorhead et al., "Texas State Penitentiary, Huntsville Unit (“Walls Unit”)", [Huntsville, Texas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Texas

Buildings of Texas: East, North Central, Panhandle and South Plains, and West, Gerald Moorhead and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019, 28-28.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.