Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The old Essex County Jail

John Haviland, architect of the famous Eastern State Penitentiary, was hired to design the new Essex County Jail in 1837. 

The old prison had succumbed to a fire a few years earlier, and the county decided to go a different way as far as the feel of the prison. The old prison was a nice building, and the prisoners were encouraged to spend their free time productively. The new building was an emotionless stone box.

 The building was small, holding roughly 100 cells. Soon the space in Newark wasn't enough, and a large new annex building was built in North Caldwell.

With the rise in crime and prosecution, both of the prisons expanded. This expansion included a large new cellblock built at the Newark Jail in 1890. The building could now house over 300 prisoners.

The walkways on the different tiers in the cellblocks were made of glass, so the officers could see through them in the event of a commotion. 

While the annex would grow to house thousands of prisoners, this building would go on to stay at 300 cells until it was closed in 1970. It was used up until 1989 by the Essex County Narcotics Bureau, who were the last group to occupy the structure.

 In 1991 it was added to the national register of historic places, and subsequently used in the filming of the movie Malcolm X, but the jail would remain abandoned and neglected until eventually catching fire in 2001. 

The fire gutted part of the structure, and ever since then the building has been totally falling apart.

Despite living within 15 minutes of the building, I have only ever visited the building twice. Once in 2011, and once again just recently. It is basically a ruin, and the future doesn't look very promising for the building. Just another example of how Essex County lets it's history demolish itself.

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