I must admit, I was rather flummoxed when I came across this photograph because I had never heard of this jail before. I also questioned whether it was a Brooklyn photograph since it seems rather like a medieval dungeon than what we think of as a jail by today’s standard. This jail was erected in 1836 at the corner of Willoughby and Raymond Streets in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. An Annex for women was added to the jail three years later. Another interesting fact: Raymond Street is now Ashland Place! According to the New York Correction History Society, the conditions at this jail were said to be pretty awful: the smells were unbearable and prisoners were not given access to light except from the rare and costly candle. The jail closed in 1963 after 127 years and was replaced by the Brooklyn House of Detention for Men on Atlantic Avenue.
What stands there now is in stark contrast: the Brooklyn Hospital Center – still a brick fortress-like building, but for healing rather than suffering. Alongside the building is also a relatively smooth bike lane that leads to the Manhattan Bridge, an oft-travelled route for bikers. By turning onto Willoughby, one arrives at Fort Greene Park, once the site of a Revolutionary War fort and Brooklyn’s first park (1847). The nearest reminder we have of suffering in a jail is the Prison Ships Martyrs’ Monument in the park, which commemorates the approximately 11,000 people who died as prisoners in hulls of British ships during the American Revolution.
By changing the name of the street from Raymond Street to Ashland Place, Brooklyn has unwittingly wiped clean any remnants of this nightmarish place. More photographs of the place can be seen at the New York Correction History Society’s web site.
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