Attr: Burlington County Prison Museum

by Editor | Nov 21, 2004
Attr: Burlington County Prison Museum The Burlington County Prison Museum is a national historic landmark located in the heart of historic Mount Holly, New Jersey. Designed by Robert Mills, one of America's first native-born and trained architects, the Burlington County Prison was completed in 1811.

As one of Mills' first independent architectural designs, the interior vaulted ceilings of poured concrete and brick and stone construction made the building virtually fireproof. Not only is the structure well suited to its purpose and virtually maintenance free, it also incorporates the philosophies of penal reform that were advocated during the period. In short, this structure was a fine example of innovative interior planning, fireproofing, heating and ventilation systems and the growing notion of social responsibility to rehabilitate criminals. In fact, it was so well constructed that it remained in constant use until 1965, and is now a National Landmark

History
Burlington City, founded in 1677, was the first settlement in Burlington County, the capital of the Province of West Jersey and the county seat until 1796. The first jail was located in the basement of the courthouse. This was replaced in 1767 by a separate stone structure that was used until 1811 when the Burlington County Prison in Mount Holly was completed and ready for use. When the county seat was moved to Mount Holly in 1796, the federal-style courthouse was built in the same year. It took another fifteen years, however, to purchase land for the prison site and have plans drawn up and approved by the freeholders. The purchase price of the land was $2,000 in 1807 and, when finally completed, the new prison's construction cost a grand total of $24,201.13.

The outside of the building has changed very little. The massive front door, the large hinges and the lock are original. The interior vaulted ceilings of poured concrete, and the brick and stone construction are also much as they were when the facility first opened. The interior is whitewashed, as it would have been when first occupied. The cell doors are also original and many were fabricated in place.

As formidable as the prison seems, it was not escape-proof. The walls were scaled and the roof penetrated numerous times in its history. The preferred routes to freedom seem to have been through the roof of the jail and the passageway to the warden's house next door. One notable escape occurred in 1875. A hole was punched through the ceiling of an upper corridor cell to gain access to the roof, and the escape of four men was made good by climbing down a woodpile next to the prison yard wall. A fifth accomplice, too large to fit through the hole and incensed at being left behind, reportedly sounded the alarm. Despite a quick response by the warden, it seems that at least some of these escapees were never caught.

Many criminals were destined to spend their last days on earth in the Burlington County Prison. State law mandated that criminals convicted of a capital crime were to be executed in the County in which they were found guilty, and Burlington County was no exception. Numerous public hangings were conducted in the prison yard on a gallows erected for each occasion. The last such execution was the double hanging of Rufus Johnson and George Small. The two men were convicted of murdering Florence Allinson of Moorestown, an English-born governess at a refuge for homeless children. Solved within days by the celebrated Burlington County detective Ellis H. Parker, the men were hanged on March 24, 1906, two months after the crime. Solidly built, this prison was in constant use until November 1965. Originally designed to house approximately 40 prisoners, the Burlington County Prison held over 100 inmates when they were moved to a converted armory that formerly stood behind the jail. Overcrowded conditions required yet another, lager prison which was erected in 1983.

General Information
The Prison Museum is located at 151 High Street, in Mount Holly. It is open year round for tours: call for times and information (609) 265-5476.

For more general information, visit www.burlco.lib.nj.us/county/PrisonMuseum.html.

For an extensive list of South Jersey Attractions, with links to websites and other information, check out our Attractions page.

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