Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Essex County Jail Annex

The original building of the Essex County Jail Annex was a huge brownstone designed by local architect Paul Botticer, who also designed the Newark Boys Home which stood on the land that is now Verona High School.

It was built in 1873, to deal with the overcrowding at the county jail in Newark. The brownstone underwent a number of additions over the years, including an auditorium/cafeteria in 1882 and a hospital section in the 1890's.

Since then, many more buildings were built on the property. During the time the hospital section was added to the brownstone, a powerhouse was built with a connecting tunnel. A groundskeepers house was also built around this time. 

All of the additions were built with a mixture of trap rock and brownstone, as opposed to the large brownstone blocks used to build the original building.

Not even two decades had passed before the prison was overcrowded. Around 1918 construction started on a new women's building, complete with its own medical facility. 

The county was quite pleased with their complex now, but the crime spike of the 1920's was met with a need for a higher capacity prison. In the 1930's the county built at the time was the largest building on campus.

The "new cell block" as they called it was a towering concrete edifice added to the auditorium of the brownstone. It was around this time that the old brownstone underwent extensive renovations, which essentially stripped the brownstone to its bones and started anew.

A number of other structures appeared on the property, mostly garages and a wardens house built in a Spanish style with a beautiful clay tile roof.

Despite the new building, overcrowding was a constant issue. At some point the county put trailers behind the brownstone for overflow inmates. 

However, it wasn't long before the county decided the buildings were too outdated, and needed to be replaced rather than added too.

All inmates were transferred out of the old 1873 cell block sometime in the 1970's, and the building was used just for reception and administrative purposes. Over the years, prisoners were moved into newer buildings on campus. 

The cell blocks didn't see use again until rapper Nas used the older cells in the brownstone to film a music video for his song "One Love".

Even though they had built entirely new buildings only a few decades earlier, Essex county decided to build a brand new jail building down in Newark. The inmates were transferred to the new facility on Doremus Ave. in Newark, and the large complex was now just left to rust. 

Over the years it became a place for local teens to trash, and there was even a fire there on 5/22/11.

That pretty was pretty much the last straw and the property owners decided to finalize their plans to turn the property into condo's. One by one the huge, historic buildings were demolished, starting with the small garages, the warden's house, and the power plant.

They didn't touch the larger buildings for a while but on December 30th, 2011, the building that held the female prisoners was demolished. It happened to be my birthday, and I had just gotten my drivers license. I had also just gotten a new camera, and I was eager to test it out. 

After that was gone, they started to demolish the 1930's cell block...

...and then it was just the original Brownstone. 

I was lucky enough to get permission to visit the structure before it, too, was razed. It was odd, looking at the building the way it was way back in the late 1800's, before even the powerhouse was built. 

I worked with a local historian to document the building as they demolished it, checking every nook and cranny of the building for items that may have slipped through the cracks. Unfortunately, the salvage company did a pretty good job of scrapping the place.

They took a lot of the building materials to be sold and re-used in future projects, mostly the wood from the roof.

We did uncover a few interesting features though. There were a number of beams and other pieces of wood with graffiti on them from when the prisoners were working on various things. These beams were tagged to be cut out and donated to the town of North Caldwell.

That wasn't the most interesting discovery we made though. When the county remodeled the brownstone in the 1930's, they pretty much completely rebuilt it, saving only two structural beams. Or so we assumed...

We uncovered this old stencil, which was unique to the town of North Caldwell. It had been painted over in the 1930's, and this was the first time since then it was seen. It didn't last long however, as the demolition crews began to take down the rest of the brownstone.

We made a number of trips up to the old brownstone during different stages of demolition. The nearly 150 year old hand- chiseled brownstone was ground up and trucked to a landfill. There were negotiations to save the administration section of the brownstone, to make into offices for the condo's. Unfortunately the plans weren't feasible and were scratched. This amazing landmark of Essex County now only lives on through photographs, and the stories told about it by those lucky enough to grace its halls. I'm grateful to have enjoyed the place for the time it was around, and it will always have a special place in my heart as one of my favorite places that is no more.

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