Nonprofit group looks to save abandoned Iowa prison

A view from the prison yard of one of the cell blocks of the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison on Thursday, March 31, 2011. (Matt Nelson/The Gazette/KCRG-TV9)
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FORT MADISON, Iowa (AP) -- A nonprofit is trying to save an empty Iowa penitentiary that dates to the 1830s as questions loom about what to do with a sprawling complex.

The Des Moines Register reports that Historic Iowa State Penitentiary is trying to save the prison that for many was only a place of misery but has played a key role in the state's history. The group is thinking of turning it into a museum and tourist attraction as they've done with prisons in other states.

The nonprofit's first step in its preservation is an environmental assessment that costs up to $180,000 to decide what buildings could be used for a historical attraction, education and even small business opportunities.

The group has asked the state to fund it, but Iowa State Penitentiary warden Patti Wachtendorf says the money isn't available.