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JOLIET, Ill. — Ever since it closed in 2002, the old Joliet prison has endured years of decay and speculation over whether it will ever be redeveloped.

Some see it as an eyesore, while others view it as an opportunity to bring tourism and understanding to the southwest suburb. After the prison has sat silent for years, there’s now real progress in efforts to open it to public tours.

Things got serious in December, when the city signed a five-year lease with the state. It wasn’t long before a work crew of volunteers lined up to begin the dirty work: turning the stone and iron beast into the beauty it once was.

Inmates quarried the stone and built the prison walls around themselves in the 1850s. Then for 150 years afterwards, those walls kept prisoners in. The prison itself even achieved somewhat iconic status after the opening scene from Blues Brothers was filmed there. When it closed in 2002, some hoped Joliet would no longer be known as a “prison town.”

But now the Joliet-area Historical Society hopes the prison could actually be a draw, attracting enough tourists that art studios and other complimentary businesses will open there as well. There’s still a lot of work to be done before it would be safe to welcome visitors inside, but if all goes to plan limited tours could begin in early August.

An detailed look at solitary confinement:

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An detailed look at cell blocks:

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An detailed look at the machine shop:

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