Prison to posh: DC’s Lorton Reformatory transforms into stylish suburban development

If those walls could talk, the bricks of the former Lorton Reformatory would likely express surprise.

What was once an overcrowded, violent penitentiary for prisoners from the District is now a desirable suburban development — and in the midst of becoming a thriving urban village.

After 91 years of housing D.C. inmates, before closing in 2001, and being returned to Fairfax County, Virginia, developers of Liberty are proudly heralding Lorton prison’s before and after:

“The unique community incorporates the historic campus into a modern development that includes loft-style apartments, distinguished single-family and townhomes, well-curated retail and restaurants, and collaborative office spaces.”

The Liberty development, in Lorton, Virginia, incorporates many of the historic buildings and facades — including several guard towers — from what was the Lorton Reformatory, into a modern, suburban development.

With street names like Reformatory Way and Sallyport Street, new apartments, townhomes and single family homes are built around reclaimed buildings from the Lorton Reformatory and the adjacent workhouse, which was established in 1910 for prisoners from D.C.

The Liberty development, in Lorton, opened with apartments incorporated into historic buildings from the reformatory, including this one, which is available for lease, as the community works to bring retail to its still-growing neighborhood.

During WTOP’s visit, a father and two children rode bicycles past one playground in the Liberty community, with historic prison walls and towers as a backdrop for what developers believe will be “a vibrant urban village.”

Prisoners convicted of less-serious crimes were housed in dormitories at the Lorton Reformatory — many of the original signs remain affixed to bricks near front doors of Liberty Crest apartment units.

Across the street from model homes, a wall from the Lorton Reformatory’s maximum security unit frames what will become Liberty Market, providing walkable retail and restaurants to homeowners and renters.

Many of the 157 urban townhomes, as well as apartments, and 24 single-family homes in the Liberty community have fascinating views from their windows, including one of several reclaimed guard towers.

Notable inmates in Lorton Reformatory included musician Chuck Brown, Watergate burglar-turned-radio host G. Gordon Liddy, aviator and Nazi agent Laura Houghtaling Ingalls and author Norman Mailer, who was arrested for protesting the Vietnam War.

Residents are looking forward to what’s being built inside the walls of what was Lorton Reformatory’s maximum security unit — small businesses have signed leases in Lorton Market, to bring retail to people who will live, work, and play in the Liberty development.

Right outside the front doors of homes in Liberty Crest Apartments are original signs and architectural details that reflect the Lorton Reformatory’s legacy.

The shell of a structure from the notorious Lorton Reformatory now includes artistic window boxes.

In many cases, walls and facades in the Liberty development deliberately maintain some of the realities of life in the former Lorton Reformatory.

Former dormitories in the Loudoun Reformatory have been transformed into the Liberty Crest Apartments.

Many of the 24 single-family detached homes are complete, with more being built.

Not a typical deckside view, the pool in the Liberty community mixes cool relaxation with historic buildings from the former Lorton Reformatory.

Hearkening to the Burt Reynolds movie “The Longest Yard,” Liberty Green is three acres of grassy space, for exercise, play, and outdoor events including music and movies.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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