The model prison in Greenwich Village

If you were convicted of murder or robbery in the City of New York in 1797, you would be ferried up the Hudson to brand-new Newgate Prison on West Street near Christopher Street in the village of Greenwich.

Yep, just a stone’s throw from those luxe Richard Meier glass towers and other tony addresses was once New York State’s first penitentiary.

It was a model prison with a radical concept: that convicts could be rehabilitated through hard work and education. Corporal punishment was banned; inmates who followed the rules were allowed occasional visits from family members.

On a more macabre note, Newgate’s proximity to the infamous hanging elm of Washington Square Park also meant that it was an easy to march prisoners to the park for their appointment with the hangman.

Newgate didn’t last long; by the early 19th century, it was already overcrowded, not just with adult male felons but also juveniles and the insane. In 1828 it closed, and prisoners were transferred to the new Sing Sing prison . . . up the river.

All traces of it are gone, of course, but Newgate is commemorated on the plaques at the Christopher Street/Sheridan Square subway station.

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6 Responses to “The model prison in Greenwich Village”

  1. Zachary Says:

    What a wonderful blog! I’ve only lived in New York for about three months now. I’ve discovered a sense of vertigo that comes from seeing signs of New York’s past but not being able to decipher them. For instance, had I not stumbled across your blog I would never have know that there was formerly a hanging elm in Washington Square Park (hard to imagine seeing it today).

    P.S. – Check out our blog! I’d like to see what you have to say about our travels through present-day New York given your knowledge of the city’s history!

  2. Subway mosaics that supply a little history « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Christopher Street, the platform is lined with mosaics of Newgate prison (right), which jutted out into the Hudson around Christopher and West Streets until the […]

  3. The “hangman’s elm” of Washington Square Park « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Newgate State Prison was just a stone’s throw away on Christopher and 10th Streets; inmates sentenced to death were reportedly walked over and hanged here. […]

  4. CHARLES LANE, Greenwich Village | | Forgotten New YorkForgotten New York Says:

    […] Ephemeral New York, Greenwich Village Society for Historic […]

  5. The gritty history of an 18th century Village lane | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] states the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. It formed the northern border of Newgate State Prison (below), built at the foot of the Hudson River that same […]

  6. trilby1895 Says:

    Sorry to disagree but….at the time, the greatest settlement in Manhattan occurred below City Hall. When miscreants were sentenced to prison, they were rowed “up the river” to Newgate at the foot of Christopher Street well before SingSing became known as “Up the river.”

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