Luzerne County Prison, 1873, Historical Sketch

After repeated presentments by the Grand Juries of the county, that the old Jail was unsafe and unfit for the confinement of prisoners, the Commissioners of Luzerne county in 1865, Uriah A. Gritman, Wm. Wolf and Wm. Franck, and Steuben Jenkins, Clerk, commenced making arrangements for erecting a new structure which should meet the requirements of modern ideas, in reference to the confinement and treatment of persons held as convicts, or for the purpose of trial.

That they might perform their duties intelligently, they visited the Prisons of Berks, Dauphin and Schuylkill counties, and the Eastern Penitentiary at Philadelphia.

Observing many defects and objections to the plan and arrangements of each and all of these, they, in the winter following, visited and examined the Tombs in New York city, and from there proceeded to Albany, where they found a Prison which seemed to them, in plan and arrangement, to be free from the objections and defects found elsewhere, and which they were anxious to avoid.

After they had concluded to enter upon the work, they procured the services of John McArthur, Jr., of Philadelphia, an Architect of great skill and large experience, who had been recommended to them by J. J. Barclay, President of " The Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons," to make them a plan for the proposed structure.

Mr. McArthur came to Wilkes-Barre and examined the old Jail lot, at the corner of Washington and Market streets, and made a plan for the Prison covering that lot. It was found that the lot was too small and badly located as to its surroundings, as well as for drainage, which last was a most important point and one not to be overlooked. The idea of building on that lot was therefore abandoned, he again visited Wilkes-Barre, and with the Commissioners and Judge Conyngham, went out and looked at every lot thought to be available for the purpose, and finally settled upon the one on which the Prison is now located, as the most available under every consideration.

The lot belonged to Mrs. A. T. McClintock, and as soon as it was ascertained that the lot was suitable tor the proposed building, negotiations were entered into with Mr. McClintock, which resulted in its purchase for the sum of Five Thousand Dollars ; and a deed was obtained and the money paid for the lot on the fifth day of July, 1866.

The Architect was then directed to prepare a plan for erecting the building on that lot. After a number of sketches had been submitted, the Commissioners finally selected the one that best met their views and ordered a plan and the proper specifications to be drawn up and submitted to them. The work was one which required time for its execution, but was completed so far that the Commissioners were prepared to let the building early in the season of 1867. Accordingly, after advertising for proposals, the work was let to Lewis Ilavens, on the second of April, 1867, who immediately commenced the work. The Commissioners at the time were, William Wolf, William Franck and William W. Smith.

One of the greatest difficulties the Commissioners had to encounter in the plan and construction of the building, was that of obtaining proper material. A quarry of stone had been opened on the face of Campbell's Ledge, but its value and capabilities as a building material had never been tested, nor the quarry worked to an extent that would justify entire reliance upon it for the proposed building, for any finished style of work. The original plan, consequently was designed and called for rough undressed stone-work, or rubble, but when the stone came to be fully tested as a building material and the quarry became more fully developed, it was found that the stone was of very superior character and that it made dressed work of a most superior kind. The style and finish of the building, under the advice of Judge Conyngham and a number of the large tax-payers of the county, we're thereupon changed from rubble to dressed work, which considerably increased the cost of the work, but made a much more finished and beautiful edifice. In excavating for the foundation of the building, a bed of quick sand was come upon. This, it became necessary to remove, and it was done down to the rock, in some places to the depth of twenty-two feet, and all the walls were consequently carried down and founded on the solid rock. This not only added to the expense but considerably retarded the progress of the work.

The corner stone of the building was laid on the ninth of September, 1868, under charge of and by Lodge No. 61, A. Y. M., assisted by Waverly Lodge No. 301. Kingston Lodge No. 395 and others, in the presence of a large concourse of the people ot the county. An appropriate address was delivered on the occasion by Hon. John N. Conyngham, President Judge of the Courts of the County. The Commissioners at this time were William Franck, W. W. Smith and Michael Raber.

The building was completed, furnished and ready for occupancy, on the 18th of August, 1870. Its total cost, including fence, grading &e , was $259,406.00.

The old Jail lot had, in the meantime, been cut up into parcels and sold by the Commissioners in pursuance of the authority of a law passed for that purpose, for the sum of $35,516.00.

On the 13th of April, 1868, an Act of Assembly was passed , providing the manner in which the Prison should be governed and managed, and on the 27th day of June, 1870, the Court, Judge Conyngham, presiding, appointed Charles Dorrance and Augustus C. Laning, who, with the County Commissioners, were to form a Board of Commissioners for the srov-eminent of the Prison. The first meeting of the Board was held on the 30th of June, 1870, when were present, Charles Dorrance, A. C. Laning, Michael Raber. G W. Bailey and B. F. Louder. The Board was organized by electing Charles Dorrance, President, and Steuben Jenkins, Secretary.

At this meeting Robert P. May was nominated as Keeper of the Prison, and Almira May, as Matron, which nominations were approved by the Court on the 11th of July, 1870.

On the 27th of July, A. J. Louder having been appointed Assistant Keeper, was confirmed. On the same day, S. J. Polen was appointed Engineer, and Dr. C. W. Spayd, Physician.

On the 18th of August, the Sheriff, James W. Rhoads, delivered to the Keeper five of the prisoners from the old Jail, and on the 19th, twenty-seven more ; in all thirty two.

On the 6th of September, 1871, A. J. Louder having resigned the position of Assistant Keeper, J. W. Fenner was appointed in his place and the appointment confirmed.

On the 3d of January. 1872, Dr. Jonathan F. Bulkeley was appointed Physician to the Prison, in the stead of Dr. Spayd.

On the 1st of November, Lewis H. Lifts was nominated and appointed Keeper, in the place of Robert P. May, resigned, and Sallie M. Litts, Matron, in the place of Almira May, also resigned.

The total number of prisoners committed to the Prison for the year 1870, was 213; 1871, 373; 1872, 444.

1. "History of the Luzerne County Prison," Third Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Luzern County Prison with a List of the Convicts, 1873, pages 22-25.

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