Posts Tagged ‘Up the River’

The model prison in Greenwich Village

April 17, 2010

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.