The historic Essex County Jail, commonly known as the Old Salem Jail, is situated next to the Howard Street Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts.
History of Salem Jail
After the former wooden jail on Federal Street, sometimes known as the Salem Witch Jail because it housed the accused witches in 1692, grew too small for its intended use, the jail was built between 1811 and 1813 on St. Peter Street.
The jail was originally 38 feet wide and 64 feet tall, and it is made of Rockport granite stones. It was made to contain 112 prisoners and had a hip roof and pavilions that slightly protruded from each side wall.
In 1813, a three-story brick jailer’s home, also known as the sheriff’s residence, was built close to the jail.
It is unknown who created the jail, however David Robbins served as the project’s lead mason, while Joseph Edwards oversaw construction. The overall cost of the construction was $80,000.
Remodulation of Salem Jail
In the years 1884–1885, the jail underwent major renovations and westward expansion. With the exception of the octagonal cupolas, the expansion closely resembles the design of the old structure. Bryant Tolles, Jr. claims in his book Architecture in Salem that the Salem Jail “has substantial architectural value” and was one of the country’s oldest correctional facilities that was still performing its original duty until it was abandoned in 1991.
At the top of the pediments on the south side of the building are inscribed the construction dates for both the original construction and the enlargement.
Public executions took place in front of the jail during the 19th century. Frank and Joseph Knapp, who were found guilty of the horrific murder of a local sea captain named Captain Joseph White in 1830, were hanged as one of these executions. Richard Crowninshield, a second man who was also charged with involvement in the murder, hanged himself in his detention cell before he could be prosecuted.
The jail remained overcrowded for generations and was never modernized with amenities like individual plumbing or electricity for the inmate cells. The prisoners were consequently made to use buckets as chamberpots in their cells.
Six inmates spilled their buckets on the jail floor during a little riot that broke out in July of 1980.
A number of prisoners successfully sued the county in 1984 over the poor living conditions they experienced due to the absence of plumbing and other modern conveniences.
Salem Jail was Closed
In 1991, the Salem Jail was shut down. At the time, it lacked running water and electricity, making it impractical to operate as a jail. It sat imposingly on the outside of the city, its “great architectural significance” still discernible beneath the thickening overgrowth despite the lack of clear intentions for its utilization.
During the riot that broke out as the convicts were being transported from the old jail, inmates tossed food, set garbage cans on fire, and threw buckets filled with pee all over the facility.
It was the oldest operating penitentiary in the United States when the institution closed in 1991.
Trespassers frequently broke in, destroyed the structure, and stole objects from the jail over the many years while it was abandoned. The jailer’s home caught fire in 1999, but it was swiftly put out.
Renovation of Salem Jail in Salem, Massachusetts
The building was transferred to the City of Salem by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on February 2, 2000.
Salem’s most prominent public building was successfully converted to a new use, highlighting the significance of preserving and updating the city’s rich architectural legacy for the twenty-first century.
The building was transferred to the Salem Redevelopment Authority by the City of Salem on October 26, 2004, and a preservation restriction was put in place for it.
The Salem Redevelopment Authority transferred ownership of the property to Old Salem Jail Ventures, LLC, on April 8, 2009. Construction on converting the former jail into a 36-unit apartment building with a restaurant on the ground floor started in May of that year.
The renovated carriage house contained one apartment and a small museum devoted to the history of the jail, while the jailer’s home was partitioned into three apartments.
The property was sold to Iron Bar LLC in 2016, who planned to develop a fourth structure with 14 additional flats as well as open a new restaurant within the existing one named Bit Bar. When Bit Bar outgrew its premises at the former jail in 2021, it moved to Derby Street.
Brief Review Here
In 1813, the Salem Jail initially welcomed inmates. There, Harry Houdini staged an escape in 1906, and Albert DeSalvo, a.k.a. the Boston Strangler, served time there in the 1960s.
According to Curbed, detainees used chamber pots as bathrooms in 1984. A few inmates sued the county, and the jail closed in 1991 as a result of the poor living conditions. It was the oldest operating penitentiary in the country up until that point.
Before the developers converted the structure into 23 opulent apartments and a restaurant, it sat empty for the following 20 years. The $10.5 million project, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, benefited from both state and federal tax credits.
You may Also Ask :
How many witches died in jail in Salem?
The Boston Globe reports that 25 people died in Salem’s witch trials. “The 19 people who were hanged all passed away at Proctor’s Ledge. One was crushed to death and five others passed away in prison “the newspaper writes.
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