The last remnant of a Revolutionary War prison

At the eastern end of Duane Street behind One Police Plaza hides a little-known relic of war and suffering.

It’s a window from the Rhinelander Sugar House prison—originally built in 1763 as a warehouse to store sugar and molasses shipped from the West Indies.

During the war, British soldiers supposedly used the sugar house as a makeshift jail to house 600 men—a fraction of the thousands of American POWs captured.

It was one of three sugar houses-turned-prisons where patriots died of hunger and disease—and the one 19th century locals swore was haunted.

The Rhinelander Sugar house hung on in disrepair until 1892. A window was salvaged and made part of the structure that replaced it, called the Rhinelander Building.

When that building bit the dust in 1968 to make room for a new Brooklyn Bridge approach, the window was once again saved and turned into a grim monument.

[Above illustration: an 1857 sketch of the sugar house and businessman William Rhinelander’s home next to it, from the NYPL digital collection]

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9 Responses to “The last remnant of a Revolutionary War prison”

  1. Bobby Costa Says:

    When one talks about Prisons, it should not be passed over that “Execution Lighthouse” in Long Island Sound, not far from City Island was once an island that at high tide would be submerged. This was the island that was used where criminals would be shackled to the rocks at low tide and waited till the tide came in, only to be drowned. In fact at low tide one can still see the shackles that bound these unfortunate souls. Unfortunately it can only be assessed by private boat.

  2. Lady G. Says:

    Wow, it really looks like some sort of prison window and very grim looking. I never realized how many POW’s the British took in New York during the Revolution.

  3. Big Sis Says:

    If you attend(ed) or taught at Murry Bergtraum High School you would see that spot frequently.

  4. Mike Virgintino Says:

    Thanks for sharing. Never knew this existed. For years, a window from one of the other sugar house prisons was outside the Van Cortlandt Manor House in The Bronx. It might still be there.

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks–I wish Van Cortlandt Manor was a little more accessible. I’d love to check it out, but it requires a day trip.

  6. Daily What?! A Revolutionary War Sugar House Prison Window in Downtown Manhattan | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] An 1857 sketch of the sugar house. Source: Ephemeral New York […]

  7. A Gilded Age chateau on Madison Avenue, and the old-money owner who never moved in | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the Gilded Age, but she was certainly known in her era. Born in 1842, she was a descendant of the aristocratic Rhinelander family. Like other old-money daughters at the time, she married and had a child (future police and fire […]

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