Thursday, April 2, 2009

'Brooklyn's Bastille' Once Stood Near Fort Greene Park

Before the Brooklyn House of Detention was built on Atlantic Ave. in Downtown Brooklyn, there was the Bastille-like, century-old Raymond Street Jail, officially called Brooklyn City Prison. The prison was built in 1838 and stood until 1963 at the corner of Willoughby Street and what is now called Ashland Place (it used to be called Raymond Street) in Downtown Brooklyn. Reformers described it as "a medieval dungeon."

The New York Correction History Society offers a virtual tour of the jail on their web site, featuring vintage photos taken by retired C.O. Peter J. Ledwith.

The Raymond Street Jail for male prisoners was built in 1836 a block away from Fort Greene Park. An addition for women prisoners, later known as the "Annex" (shown above) was completed in 1839.

The jail, with a capacity of 465, was constantly overcrowded and was denounced by health authorities. (Check out the photos of the impossibly small cells.)

In 1939, a citizens' group called the Committee of One Hundred was organized, and pressure was brought to build a modern jail. Eventually, the Brooklyn House of Detention for Men at 275 Atlantic Ave. was built. The Raymond Street Jail was placed into operation as a facility for short termers and adolescents.

Finally, in 1963, the Raymond St. Jail closed. The Brooklyn Hospital Center's 19-story Maynard Building was built on the old jail site.

The "new" Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic has been unused for several years, and neighbors would like to keep it that way. But a couple of weeks ago, Kings County Supreme Court Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix ruled that the city’s Department of Correction may go forward with its plan to reopen the facility.

Return to Raymond Street Jail

Photo by C.O. Peter J. Ledwith

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2 comments:

Katia said...

Thanks for the wonderful history lesson.
That was quite a building.
Those prison cells were horribly small.
I wonder what the Atlantic Avenue jail
likes like from the inside.

mcbrooklyn said...

Katia, Thanks for the comment. It would be quite interesting to see the inside of the Atlantic Ave jail -- but not on an involuntary basis.