The former prison farmland just south of the present-day Central Unit was sold by the Texas General Land Office five years ago and is now being developed into a master-planned community that will consist of more than 3,000 single-family homes. Developers decided to keep the old prison building located at the north end of the development, and a recent proposal called for it to be turned into a satellite facility for the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The exterior of the 50,000-square-foot building that had sat empty for decades has already been renovated, and plans are for a recreational center to be built on its northwest side.
“They did a great job with it,” said Don Hudson, an industrial supervisor at Central who has independently researched the unit’s history. “They replaced a lot of the bricked-in widows, added oak doors, and did a lot of nice ironwork.”
Hudson became well acquainted with “Two Camp” years ago while working as an agricultural supervisor at Central. In those days, fields of cotton and oats surrounded the building that was built in 1939 out of red bricks fired at the nearby Jester Unit plant. It was unique for its day since many buildings housing prisoners in the region then were made of wood.
“This building marks the era when TDCJ began to modernize,” Hudson said. “They began to build brick structures as opposed to the old wooden structures.”
Freestanding facilities away from the main unit were common during the early agrarian era of the state prison system so offenders could be housed nearer to the fields they worked. Central, in fact, once consisted of the main building erected in 1932 and three surrounding satellite work camps. “Two Camp” housed approximately 400 prisoners at any one time until 1969 when it was abandoned. Besides the normal prison hardware, it featured a state-of-the-art hospital on the second floor that included an operating room.
The former “Two Camp” building was used as a warehouse by Texas Correctional Industries until 1999. Since the start of the development, houses have fast appeared on the landscape.
“It’s an odd feeling, remembering the times I worked out here,” Hudson said. “You look at the land now and you can’t tell where some of the old turn rows were and where some of the old buildings stood. It’s an end of an era, really.”
Still, Hudson said he is pleased that the building was saved and will have a second life as a focal point of the new community.
“They wanted to preserve some of the history of land, and I think that’s a good thing,” Hudson said. “Some of the history lives on.”