Posts Tagged ‘historic’

Thruout NJ, historic black cemeteries are in poor condition

All across NJ there are historic black cemeteries, Many in poor condition

The history of Eastern State Prison

When you think of a jail (the building not just a single cell) what do you think of? Take away the barbed wire and fences and bars, and most jails look remarkably like any other type of building. Local or city jails often exist within other buildings such as police stations or courts. County and federal prisons? Again, take away the security and they could almost pass for something else. But there is one prison in the area that is very different. if you walk past this building you know instinctively what this building is for. You know who lives here and why. The building inspires fear, awe, reverence, and a desire to never ever go there. That’s exactly what the architect had in mind….


Eastern State Prison in Philadelphia, PA was the first every attempt by the state to use incarceration and specifically solitary confinement as a form of punishment. In the 1800’s punishment generally consisted of fines, public humiliation (such as the stocks), whipping, banishment to a penal colony, and of course execution. American justice was often simply a variation of the justice systems of Europe.

In Europe often the church would be responsible for punishment for “crimes” in part because in many areas, the church WAS the state, or they were very closely tired together, almost to be inseparable. The church historically has opposed capital punishment, and so they developed a system of punishment in line with the Catholic or Christian doctrines. Whenever possible, prisoners were kept in isolation from each other, keeping in the tradition of silence and penitence typical in monastic orders.

By the 1600’s some courts in the Netherlands began experimenting with imprisonment coupled with hard labor. By the end of the 18th century large groups of men woman & children were housed in communal jail cells, some chained to the wall, sleeping on bare floors with little heat or food. If they could afford to pay the jailer, they would live and sleep in better conditions. John Howard, a sheriff in Bedfordshire England began studying the European prisons and concluded that long term prisoners should be held in isolation for “long hours of thoughtfulness and reflection”. With innovative construction, supervision could be done with less expense, and less overhead, would reduce the spread of disease, and ultimately reform the convict.

After Howard reported his findings and opinions, nothing happened initially. Gaol fever was rampant, killing prisoners and citizens alike by the hundreds, even thousands. The US colonies were now no longer part of the British empire, so England couldn’t just ship its prisoners there. They established penal colonies in Australia and New Zealand, but eventually pressure mounted to build full scale penitentiaries. It was hoped that isolation and improved sanitary conditions would reduce the spread of the disease in the prisons.
By 1816 most of the isolation based prisons were converted to traditional prison models. Cost was a large factor in the decision. In the county of Gloucestershire, 60% of the county budget went to the maintaining of the prisons. As England was moving away from solitary confinement, the US was moving towards it…

A group of reformers, called the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons (later shorted to just the Pennsylvania Prison Society) was founded by members of the clergy, the law, and the medical establishment. The group was aware f the failures in Europe but felt that they could overcome the obstacles that caused the European models to fail. In 1790 they attempted to modify an existing prison, the Walnut St prison, but the experiment failed, largely due to overcrowding. The Society believed that a larger reason for failure was that they were modifying an existing prison, which proved difficult and required modification of their ideas. If they built a new prison from scratch, they could design it exactly as they had envisioned. At about the same time as the Walnut Street jail was being modified, NY was also trying its hand at solitary confinement, also by modifying an existing jail. By 1823 the NY experiment was deemed a failure, much like the Walnut St jail, and largely for the same reasons…

The members of the Prison Society agreed on the concept of solitary confinement but disagreed over whether or not there should be forced labor. Construction began on Western State Prison in Pittsburgh in 1818, and Eastern State Prison in 1821. WSP opened in 1826. Inadequate heating, bad ventilation, and a lack of truly sanitary facilities led to the closure of the prison within 7 years, and it was soon torn down.  This did not bode well, but by the time WSP closed its doors, the doors at ESP had already opened. And the world was watching….


The design of each cell was important as the design of the prison as a whole. Each cell needed plumbing facilities and heat, as well as room enough to exercise and perform labor. Ventilation was also essential, but more importantly, they had to prevent escapes. Two architects submitted designs, and the circular design of William Strickland was chosen. During the design phase, few initially supported the design offered by John Haviland, but slowly he gained more supporters. After agreeing to Strickland’s design, those in charge eventually changed their minds and added Havilands outer wall design. Shortly after construction began, the prison decided to go with all of Havilland’s plan, and Strickland was sacked as the head architect and builder. The reason was simple: on paper, Haviland’s plan was cheaper to build, cheaper to maintain. As originally planned, 250 inmates would be housed here, with construction budgeted at 100,000 (1.2 million in 2002 money).

One of the first things built was the outer wall, which made use of the gothic style including castellated guard towers, a portcullis and blank windows. It was meant to be a physical reminder to the citizens of their fate should they choose to break the law. This would be the focus of a lot of criticism as it was expensive, and deemed by many to be an unnecessary waste of money. As the construction went along, the design changed often. Haviland was a relative inexperienced architect and builder and as he went along he learned a lot, which caused him to make design changes for the better. Furthermore, before construction was even half way finished it was clear that the prison was going to be too small for the number of prisoners slated to occupy it.

The original design had 7 spokes coming from a central hub where the guards would be located. From here they could see each cell block. After the first 4 blocks were built, the design changed to add a second level of cells. The final design provided for 450 individual cells, and by 1936 311 of them had been constructed.  Heating and ventilation proved most difficult. Stoves generated heat which was fed through pipes, but the accompanying carbon dioxide sickened many inmates, so a change was made to hot water generated stream which was then fed into each cell. Unfortunately the discharge pipes for the privies were located close to the hot water pipes, resulting in a rather disgusting smell that would cling to you if you just walked thru the halls….

Before construction was finished, a war was going on over the concept of isolation. As would be expected, expense and the affect of isolation on the inmates sanity were the primary complaints. One of the biggest detractors was Charles Dickens who considered isolation to be inhumane. most criticisms were ignored by the state, which pressed on with construction. Tourists, foreign dignitaries and government leaders all took tours. Indeed the world was watching.

From the start isolation proved nearly impossible. Inmates were used in housekeeping and the kitchen, or to make repairs. Despite efforts to prevent it, prisoners could communicate by tapping on the water pipes, or by throwing weighted notes thru the skylights into the cells next to them. The skylights were nailed shut. But this did not stop the prisoners from communicating or from seeing each other. Forced labor was done in each cell without the benefit of machinery, a distinct disadvantage compared to the forced labor done in other prisons, or in factories on the outside. After many years of success, the prisoners were left to make good for use in the prison only, and not for sale to the outside world.

Criticism of the solitary method continued well after ESP was built. Any look at ESP though must be weight against conditions at other prisons at the time, not against current prisons facilities. Most prisons barely had heat (if at all), poor ventilation and little if any natural light. Most cells were much smaller then the ones at ESP. Cells at Sing-Sing in NY measured 3 feet 3 inches by seven feet, barely big enough for a bed and a toilet. Labor was forced and silence was mandatory when outside the cell. Those who favored the solitary method as well those who argued against both often ignored the failures and inadequacies of their own systems. The prison ultimately failed to produce reforms, and was more expensive then traditional designs which was a major impediment to it being implemented widespread in the US. That’s not to say that numerous states didn’t copy the Haviland model. Many did, however the design was quite popular around the world, including England, where the concept had been tried and deemed a failure. It was Havilands innovative architecture design that gave others reason to reexamine the idea, and to try it again.

In 1937 the prison removed the old portcullis and installed a new front gate not in line with rest of the facade. The promise of reform was no more. This was now a penitentiary like any other. Eventually a new ESP was built and throughout the 20th century a debate was waged over the utility of maintaining the prison, whose very design was now obsolete. In 1971, the 1175 inmates were transferred to other institutions and the prison was closed. As would be expected, vandals broke in and destroyed things, a jungle of plants and bushes overgrew the entire property, even inside the buildings. In 1974 Mayor Frank Rizzo suggested demolishing Eastern State to construct a criminal justice center. Nothing happened for nearly 10 years, and in 1988 Eastern State Task Force, a group of architects, preservationists and historians, is formed. Mayor Wilson Goode urges the Redevelopment Authority to reject all proposals for commercial use of the property.

By 1994 the buildings were stabilized and 10,000 people took a tour of the historic site. The following year the mental ward scenes of 12 Monkeys were filmed here. Other movies were filmed here including Return to Paradise. Steve Buscemi scouted the site for a movie he was working on and he ultimately rejected the site because of rules against making changes to the site. He took an interest in the preservation efforts, and eventually narrated the audio tour which premieres in 2003. By now over 1 million dollars has been spent renovating the rotunda and important cells such as the occupied by Al Capone.

The prison is located at Fairmount Ave & 22nd Ave in Philadelphia and is open from April 1 until just after Thanksgiving. Private tours can be scheduled at any time, even during the winter. For information call 215 236-5111 x12. One of the more fascinating things I read was that the prison was a popular tourist attraction, as popular as Niagara Falls or the Capitol Building. Between 1862 and 1872 over 100,000 people visited the prison.

For more information visit the official website

Read about the tour of Eastern State Prison here

Read my take on Terror Behind the Walls here (a Halloween attraction held in the confines of ESP)

Oxford Furnace

The Oxford Furnace was built in 1741 and was the third such furnace built in NJ, and the first where iron ore was actually mined. It was also the first “hot blast” furnace of its kind. Before that, unheated air was pumped by bellows into the furnace. This furnace used preheated air which was then sent to the furnace and this raised the temperatures even hotter. The air was blown in thru the 3 openings in the sides of the furnace, and molten iron came out thru a 4th hole. The furnace produced railroad car wheels, nails and many other objects, though there’s no evidence it produces cannonballs.

Originally 31 feet high, fill has been placed around the base, making it only 22 ft tall. The furnace was converted to use coal as their fuel in the 1800’s & this ensured it’s continued functionality. In 1935 it was donated to the state by it’s owners, the Warren Foundry & pipe Co, and in 1984 it was turned over to Warren County. With a grant of 315,000, the furnace began undergoing restorations in 2001. They are due for completion in spring 2006.

several historic railroad stations getting renovated, even though they no longer serve an active rail line

More aging North Jersey railroad stations — considered landmarks and often the centerpieces of many towns — are being restored to their historic grandeur. Stations in Demarest, Tenafly, Westwood, Pequannock and Rutherford either are scheduled for renovations or have them under way — even though some no
longer serve the railroad.

The railroads, and their stations, helped transform farmland into bustling New York City suburbs.”The communities that grew are really what grew around the original train stops,” said Kevin Wright, past president of the Bergen County Historical Society. “The population exploded when the railroads went through.”Many of the stations that once served as the entry points to the green pastures of North Jersey are in need of a makeover.

Take Demarest. Borough officials and the local historical society decided in the late 1990s that the depot, considered the most handsome on the old Northern Railroad line, needed to be restored “because it’s a state treasure,” said Demarest Councilwoman Carole Cardinale. “It has always been the highlight or the downtown spot for Demarest,” said borough historian Mary Anne Clarke. So, an architect and contractor specializing in historic building restoration were hired. Old station photographs and an embroidered picture were used to
get a sense of what the depot looked like in 1872 along with information from the son of the last stationmaster, said Clarke.

In the first phase in 2002, a slate roof was installed. A weather vane, finials, cresting and an east dormer were added, said Clarke. Work on a second portion began last year by opening the portico to the station platform, cleaning the stone exterior, upgrading the heating and air-conditioning systems and replacing windows and doors and the cement sidewalk that surrounded the building. Those improvements should be finished soon. The building will then once again house the senior center and serve as a meeting place for groups.

The bulk of the $963,593 project has been funded through state and county grants and county and municipal open space funds — about $641,000. Plans call for renovating the station’s interior at a future date, said Clarke. Demarest Councilman Raymond Cywinski said it’s natural for people to want to
connect to something in the past. “It’s part of a living history almost,” he said of the station. “It has a
certain design and history to it.”

Tenafly’s railroad station, along the Northern Railroad, which became part of the Northern Erie line, has been a work in progress over the years, said Kevin Tremble, a member and former chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission. The borough replaced an asphalt roof with slate in 1980. A $269,841 renovation began in 1993 when the roof overhang was restored and roof repaired. The station’s exterior was repainted to match the original colors of the building and air conditioning and attic ventilation added. A $153,000 grant went toward that project.

This year, lead-coated copper roofing replaced a portion of the roof among other exterior repairs. Concrete sidewalks around the station and the platform will also be replaced. Of the $324,500 cost, about $50,000 came from a grant. The station, which now houses a cafe, represents an era of development in
Tenafly, said Tremble. Other towns are also taking steps toward restoring the stations.

In Westwood, research is under way to refurbish the 1932 station, which the borough leases from NJ Transit. Upgrades for the bathrooms, the heating system and window replacement are being considered, said Borough Administrator Robert Hoffmann. Using sustainable resources like solar panels and energy efficient insulation are also ideas being floated.

“It’s a beautiful looking structure,” said Hoffmann. “It was built with loving hands by craftsmen and that comes through when you look at the woodwork,” he said of the station used by commuters and serving as a museum. Pequannock, which bought the Pompton Plains station two years ago, has dedicated $200,000 to preserving it with $157,000 coming from Morris County funds, said Councilman Edward Engelbart. Used as a museum, the borough plans to replace the heating system, restore the interior floor and repaint it among
other things. And Rutherford’s historic station owned by New Jersey Transit, will undergo a $3.2 million renovation including restoring the brick exterior and fixing the indoor waiting area.

by Karen Sudol, Bergen Record

debate over maitenence of cemetery in Norwood

residents upset over the way cemetery is being taken care of in Norwood

update: norwood will erect a low stone wall fence around the cemetery

The town will erect a low, stone wall around a 300-year-old cemetery, laying to rest a two-year battle between historians and residents. Council members said they wanted to protect the historic Haring Cemetery, which dates to the 1700s and contains the remains of Bergen County’s earliest settlers. The area, which is in the middle of several back yards, was previously unmarked and overgrown with trees and weeds.

The cemetery, located off Meadow Lane, has been a source of controversy as historical groups and neighbors argued about how to best preserve the site. Historians were concerned that additional stones have been covered up over time. They lobbied to erect a fence around the cemetery while the neighbors feared such delineation would create an eyesore. The borough council decided that a wall made of Belgian block less than a foot high and 66 feet square would be a fair compromise.

“We want to preserve the site but we don’t want it to be overly conspicuous for the sake of the neighbors,” said Councilman Barry Scott, who has been working on the plan for two years. Scott estimated that the wall would cost between $5,000 and $7,000. “This is a big step,” said Rich Williams, chairman of the Norwood Historic Preservation Committee, adding that he’s thrilled with the council’s move to protect the historic landmark. “It’s been a long time in the works. We’re very happy with this. Now we hope to do some landscaping around the area.”

Robert Garner, a neighbor of the cemetery, who had initially opposed the fence, said he was not present at the meeting. He is now having trouble confirming the height of the fence. “If it will be 4 to 6 inches of a cobblestone that blends into the area, then we will be satisfied,” he said Monday. Ownership of the cemetery can be traced to John Haring. When he died in 1802, he didn’t deed the land to anyone. For years the cemetery was ownerless.

The borough recently took ownership at the urging of historic groups that wanted to protect the gravestones. Among those buried in the cemetery are Abraham Haring, who died in 1801 and Betsey Bogert, who died in 1890. Recently, the preservation committee obtained a $1,829 grant that allowed them to hire an expert to restore the aging tombstones, which were toppled over, said Scott. “Now it looks a lot better.” The next step, he said, is to remove the weeds and tall grass surrounding the stones. The council hopes to proceed with plans for the fence in the spring. “The idea is to delineate the area,” said Borough Clerk Lorraine McMackin. “It will be non-obtrusive.”

The Pump House

Read more about the pumphouse here

Built in 1882, the Pump House served as the pumping station for Richmond’s water supply, as well as an open air public dance hall. This Gothic Revival building is one of the only buildings in the country that served as a public utility and social venue. The Pump House is next to the remains of the first operating canal system in the United States. Closed in 1924, the Pump House was slated for demolition and has remained in city ownership since then. The park is open but the Pump House building is closed to the public, which really is disappointing. The park is extremely pretty and if I had the time I would’ve loved to have explored the rest of the canals, which reportedly stretch over 3 miles. The building itself is quite gothic. The stone work seems to all be in good shape, but it casts a heavy, old feeling, and I imagine this place must be pretty creepy at night. If you’re in the area I certainly recommend stopping by to check this place out.






Dingman’s Bridge: the last privately owned toll bridge in NJ




Dingman’s Bridge is a toll bridge across the Delaware River, located not far North of the route 80 crossing. It is the only privately owned toll bridge across the Delaware. That’s right, when you pay your 50c, it goes directly to the owner, no state DOT, no Park Commission, right to the owner.

Originally the site of a ferry (run for 100 years), the first bridge was built in 1836, and 11 years later floods washed it away. The ferry was run again until 1850 when a second bridge was built. It lasted 5 years before a windstorm knocked it into the river. The following year, a hastily (and poorly built) bridge was erected and it fell apart due to poor construction. Ferry service would begin again, and continue until 1900 when an iron bridge would be erected. With a history of problems, the current Dingman family is committed to (and probably required by law now) strict maintenance. There has never been a serious accident on the bridge, though there have been some scrapes from careless drivers.

Amazingly, the current toll of 50c is not much higher then when the first bridge opened, when the fare was a maximum of 25c for a horse drawn wagon, and 10c for a horse and rider, pedestrians were 2c.

It’s actually kind of cool, although driving over a bridge with boards and not pavement can be a tad unnerving.

Hancock’s House

The Hancock House was the site of a massacre by british troops, where 300 Hessian soldiers killed 30 Americans, all by bayonneting, no shots were fired. One of the dead was a British Judge with American sympathies.

The Jersey Bicycle Railroad

The history of the bicycle can be traced back to England, France and Scotland but NJ holds a special place in history as the birthplace of the bicycle railroad. It was September 13, 1892 when the Arthur Hotchkiss & the Mt Holly and Smithville Bicycle Company opened their bicycle railroad for business. The bicycle railroad was exactly what it sounds like… a specially built bicycle whose wheels rode on a track 4 feet in the air, almost like a monorail. The line ran 1.8 miles for the employees who worked at the factory. It was an instant success as it was convenient, safer and easier to ride then a regular bicycle, and provided direct access to the job site.

Bicycles of the day were a far cry from the simple to operate devices we enjoy today. Invented in 1839 by a Scotsman, it wasn’t until the 1860’s that practical designs that could be mass produced started appearing in Paris, France. Known as velocipedes, they didn’t have pedals and were moved by a walking motion. They weighed 60 lbs and earned the nickname the “boneshaker”. Despite the uncomfortable ride, the elite of France enjoyed them and by 1865 an entrepreneur named Lallement brought the velocipede to America. He spent 3 years trying to interest Americans in the machine but he failed and returned to Europe. Shortly after he left it somehow gained Americans interests and the velocipede were featured in vaudeville acts and in circuses.

The lack the lack of roads capable of riding a velocipede safely led to a demise of the velocipede industry in the US around 1870. Bicycles as we know them first appeared in England in the 1860’s, front fork and the rubberized tire were invented (prior to this, the tires were nothing more then steel wheels). The style was in the form of the giant front wheel, small rear wheel style. The introduction of the gear shaft and the import of rubberized wheels and pedals from England in the 1880’s led to an interest in the bicycle in the US, which brings us to 1892 and the Smithville bicycle company.

The public was allowed to ride the line for a fare of 7 cents, and eventually similar bicycle railroads were built in Atlantic City, Ocean City and Gloucester. Despite the initial success of the bicycle railroad there were problems. There were plans to build a dual track but only one small section had it, so when riders going in opposite directions encountered each other, one had to remove their bike from the track and give way. Another problem was if you ran into a slow rider, there was no opportunity to pass them. Complicating things was the fact that several parts of the track were hinged to allow farmers to pass thru. Sometimes they didn’t close the track completely, leading to riders crashing off the track.

Hotchkiss’s bicycle railroad interested the promoters of the World Columbian Exposition, which was to be held in Chicago in 1893. Scheduled to exhibit there, they brought their equipment, but none of the brochures or paperwork of the fair mention him or the bicycle railroad, so it appears as if the public never got to see the Hotchkiss bicycle railroad. The Smithville line eventually closed down in1898 due to swindling interest. The novelty had worn off, the problems with the design were never resolved, accidents grew more frequent, and increased safety of normal bicycles gave people the freedom to ride wherever they wanted, something the bicycle railroad could not give them. The shore rail lines kept running a bit longer, in part because of a different track design. The original bicycle railroad had the rider and the bicycle riding on top of the track. The new lines along the jersey shore had the bicycle and rider suspended underneath the track, giving them the sensation of flying. Rather then a transportation device, these rail lines were more like amusement park rides.

The bicycle railroad is now mere footnote of history, largely forgotten. The only remaining elements of the bicycle railine, (besides photos) is a bicycle on display at the Smithville mansion. The H B Smith Manufacturing company went out of business in 1989 and portions of the park complex are being developed as a historical park. There is one footnote to the bicycle railroad, however. In 1901 an English investor named W G Bean brought back to England some of the bicycles and plans. At a beach in Blackpool, he ran the railroad along with a carousel, which together they formed the basis of an amusement park. The railline only ran for 9 years, but the park was once called “Europe’s greatest amusement park.”