The DC department of corrections selected inmates and transferred them from the high-security complex to the present site in 1910. Occoquan was built in several phases, with labor being provided by these first prisoners. In 1916, the brick structure was complete. Over time, the Department of Corrections transformed Occoquan from a minimum security facility into Lorton Prison, complete with high walls and guard towers.
During the Cold War, the federal government built an underground bunker that held weapons and equipment in reserve. Less attention was given to the actual state of the prison, which became outdated and overcrowded. Prisoners were transferred to other facilities during the 1990s, and the prison closed in 2002. Control of the land and buildings transferred to Fairfax County, where community leaders worked to transform the former prison into a cultural arts center. In 2008, the Workhouse Arts Center opened offering several galleries and studios, as well as a youth arts center and theater.