1908 – A Penal Commission was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to investigate overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at the District of Columbia jail.


1908 – The Commission recommended, and Congress approved, the purchase of 1,155 acres north of the Occoquan River for use as a Workhouse Prison.


1910 – The first 29 prisoners arrived by barge and were housed in tents on the Occoquan River.  These prisoners cut wood from which they built the first prison buildings.


1912 – The women’s prison opened nearby to accommodate about 100 prisoners.


1917 – Seventy-two members of the National Women’s Party were incarcerated at the Workhouse for “obstruction of sidewalk traffic” as they picketed the White House for women’s right to vote.  News of the mistreatment of the women at the Workhouse is credited with pushing the vote forward to pass the 19th amendment and award women the right to vote in 1920.


1920s – Original wooden structures were gradually replaced during the 1920s by the brick Colonial Revival buildings on the site today.  The prisoners made the bricks, fired them in kilns on the nearby riverside, and built the dormitories, mess hall and administration buildings.


1920-2001 – Property expanded to more than 3,200 acres.  A Reformatory, Penitentiary and Youth Center were added among other campuses.


1955 – First Lorton Jazz Festival held at the correctional facility for inmates.  Headliner the first year was Sarah Vaughan.


1960s – A variety of celebrities performed for prisoners in Jazz Festivals including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Art Blakey, Nancy Wilson, Charlie Byrd, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and the Temptations.


1960s – Noam Chomsky and Norman Mailer were incarcerated at the Workhouse for protesting the Vietnam War at the Pentagon.


1968 – The Workhouse ceased operations and the majority of the buildings were turned over to the D.C. Department of Public Health for an Alcoholic Rehabilitation Center.


1970s – G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergate scandal fame, imprisoned briefly at the Workhouse.


1983 – The Alcohol Rehabilitation Center was closed, fences and guard towers were built, and the buildings were again used as a medium security prison.


1998 – Congress moves to turn over prison complex to Fairfax County.  Federal legislation was passed closing the entire complex.


1998 – Workhouse closed.


2001 – The last prisoner was transferred off the property in December.


2001 –  2,324 acres of the correctional property were sold by the Federal Government to Fairfax County for $4.2 million.  It was required in the agreement that Fairfax County maintain standards regarding historic preservation, green space, low density occupation, and public use.  The county developed a master plan.


2001 – Lorton Arts Foundation, Inc. (LAF) put forward a plan to transform the former Workhouse section (55 acres) of the complex into an arts center.


2004 –  The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the rezoning of the 55 acres that comprises the Workhouse Arts Center.


2004-2008 – Extensive planning, adaptive reuse, and rehabilitation of historic buildings was completed by both the County and the LAF.  The campus was transformed into an active and vibrant arts center, serving those in the South County region and beyond.


2008 – The Workhouse Arts Center opened to the public, 100 years after the appointment of the Penal Commission by Theodore Roosevelt.  First museum and prison history exhibits open to the public during Women’s History Month in building W-16.


2008 – Mikhail Baryshnikov performs at the Workhouse Arts Center.


2010 – Chuck Brown, former inmate, performs at the Workhouse Arts Center.  Chuck Brown purchased the materials to make his first guitar for two cartons of cigarettes, while incarcerated at the Workhouse.


2014 – LAF officially changed its name to the Workhouse Arts Foundation, Inc. (WAF)


2016 – 100,000 people visited the campus for a variety of arts and community events. Nearly 100 studio and resident artists worked daily on site.  The Workhouse presented 100 visual arts exhibitions, 800 classes including a vibrant summer kids program, approximately 300 performing arts events, and a variety of large-scale community events for the general public.



2016 –  Renovation project began to create a new museum on the campus called the Lucy Burns Museum.


2017 – NOVA Arts and Cultural District was formed, including Workhouse Arts Center, Occoquan Regional Park, and the Town of Occoquan.  First ever multi-jurisdictional Arts and Cultural District in the Commonwealth.  Change to the legislation was instigated by the Workhouse.


2018 – Quad renovation was completed June 2018.


2018 – Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a Steering Committee of Workhouse and County staff to push forward additional growth on the Workhouse Campus.


2018– Approximately 65 Resident Studio Artists worked, exhibited, and sold their creations at the Workhouse.  There were also approximately 22 Associate Artists (Arches Gallery) who exhibited and sold.


2018 – 100,000+ people visit the Workhouse annually.  Each year there are 800 classes, 300 performances, 100 art exhibitions, and a regular calendar of large-scale community events including Fireworks, Haunt, Brewfest, and Second Saturdays.


2018 – Today, the Workhouse Arts Center serves as an important resource for the county, region, and nation.  The organization is cited as a national example of success in public-private partnership, adaptive reuse, and arts as a regional economic driver.


2020 – Lucy Burns Museum opening to the public.  Kiln shed completed.

Pres. Teddy Roosevelt

Women’s Workhouse

Pickets, New York

Suffragists Picketing

Prisoners Farming


Ella Fitzgerald

Norman Mailer

Barracks Living

G. Gordon Liddy

Chuck Brown

Chuck Brown

Lorton Correctional Complex Sign

Lorton Correctional Complex Sign

Prison Keys

Misc. Jail Keys

Renovated Cell Block

Mikhail Baryshnikov at the Workhouse

One Year Anniversary Celebration

Community Events

Workhouse Fireworks

Workhouse Arts Center


Ceramics Program

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