Imagine that you are an inmate being brought into justice for a petty crime that you have committed against the county of York. You are lined up with several other hard-looking men who have been sentenced to time in prison for murder, corruption, and contempt. As you take in your surroundings, you notice the building made of stone in front of you. The building looks as if it is just a regular house that someone is going to come out and welcome you inside, but it has a feeling of foreboding surrounding it. In a raspy deep voice, one of the guards yells “We are here.” The cozy looking two story stone house, which you have presumed it to be, is not so hospitable, it is the first York County Prison. The prison might be remembered as a welcoming house to all, but the prison only welcomes those who have disobeyed the law. Even though in present day, the prison may no longer be standing, it has much history in how it contributed to the community of York. The York County Jail has affected the community through detaining prisoners, keeping the law, and isolating the prisoners in a facility that is separated from the general public.
The First York County Jail was built in the year 1755. The building was exceedingly small and contained two large rooms to hold prisoners. There were no individual cells. There were many windows that had bars on them to keep the inmates from escaping. An addition was added in the early 1800s. By 1854, the building had deteriorated so much that it was torn down in 1854.
In 1749, the county of York was
founded, and the one building that the area was missing was a county prison. It
took six years until the county built the prison. The prison was built in 1755,
so imagine six years with no place to hold those who fought against the law. This
prison was not the traditional prison we know and think of today. To get a real
idea of how old the jail is, it did not have barbed wire on the fences to keep
prisoners in, and there are no pictures that show how the actual prison looked.
Though the prison might be considered “primitive,” the jail did in fact hold
value of importance in the county.
outside, the jail resembles a style of house that would have been built at this
time. The walls of the main building were made from stone and what seems to be
mortar, a cement-like substance. The jail stood two stories tall with windows
that had iron bars installed to keep those who were prisoners inside the prison
and away from the general public. The only reminisces of the prison are
sketches that someone drew at the time that the prison stood. The prison was
said to have been located on the corner of King and George streets in York
County. One flaw in the design of the location of the building of the prison
was that it was probably built in a populated area, which gave the inmates a
better chance of successfully escaping the prison.
In 1768, in the July sessions, “the
county commissioners requested that the county jail be enlarged, as it was too
small for a work house and prison and the walls were not safe, whereupon the
court ordered them to erect an additional building” (Prowell). The prison was
running out of room, and the conditions of the prison were becoming overcrowded
and unhealthy. The commissioners of the county decided to build an addition
onto the main building of the prison. The addition of the jail resembles
another popular style of house at this time. The walls of this addition were
made with long wooden beams and plaster. This new building was most likely
built to house more prisoners, house guards that were off duty, or even process
new incoming inmates.
The jail had a courtyard to give
the inmates of the prison an opportunity to stretch their legs, exercise, and
converse with other inmates. The courtyard ran parallel to East
King Street, and the courtyard was 180 feet by 154 feet long (McClure). The
courtyard was built in the shape of what seems to be like a rectangle. The
members on the board of the jail wanted the prisoners to be more confined so
there was less risk of them escaping the prison (McClure). With no barbed wire
or any other way of keeping prisoners from climbing over the walls, the risk of
them escaping increases greatly.
The jail is a key part of the history of York
County in how we saw jails and prisons in the past and how we see the
traditional prison that exist today. Through the mistakes of the past and flaws
in the prison’s design, engineers would be able to rebuild and create the
prison in York County. Sad enough, the jail no longer stands and cannot be
toured or study like other prisons from the past such as the Eastern
Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A walk through the cold, long
hallways would give the impression of how it felt to be detained here. If one
was to see the way that the prison was build, he or she could grasp the idea of
how the conditions were and how the prisoners lived their lives while being
within the walls of this facility.