Central State Farm's roots trace to the late 1870s, when the original 5235 acres of the sugar plantation here were worked by convict labor. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, public sentiment largely supported a self-sustaining prison system, with no state funds for facilities or operations. Beginning in 1878, Edward H. Cunningham and Littleberry A. Ellis leased prison labor from the state. They housed prisoners here on a sugarcane plantation. Ellis' land, which came to be called "Sartartia," developed with the construction of an onsite mill named the Imperial Mill.
Despite harsh living conditions at such farm camps around Texas, the leasing program continued until the 1910s. The plantation and mill operation at this site were bought in 1907 by the Imperial Sugar Company; the state bought the plantation in 1908 and renamed it Imperial State Prison Farm. The Texas Legislature agreed in the late 1920s to economic reform measures that initiated prison industrial operations, led to the classification of convicts based on rehabilitative theory and improved convict living conditions. In 1930, construction on the Central State Prison Farm facilities began at this site.
The Austin firm of Gieseke and Harris designed the new buildings; Bertram Gieseke's father, noted architecture professor F.E. Gieseke, served as a consultant on materials and techniques, which centered on poured, reinforced concrete technology. The main building, comprised of administrative offices and dormitories, was completed in 1932 as the first modernized structure in the Texas prison system. The Art Moderne design features stepped pilasters, chamfered corners, a square tower with pyramidal roof, and metal casement windows. Today, it stands as a reminder of 20th-century prison reforms.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 2003.