Old city prison still stands on Vine St.

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By MICHAEL BUSHNELL
Northeast News
June 4, 2014

Overcrowding, frequent escapes, unclean bedding, vermin, lack of medical attention, poor food, habitual gambling, prisoners kept in cells in idleness and intoxicating liquors and drugs available during confinement.

The list of grievances was delivered to Mayor Thomas Crittenden in 1909 by the Board of Pardons and Paroles describing the deplorable conditions at the City Work House, located at 2001 Vine St.

After public dissemination of those charges, the superintendent and most of the staff at the Work House were fired or resigned under duress. The castellated stone structure was designed by local architect Wallace Love and completed in 1896. The undressed stone was quarried locally, and most of the construction labor was done by prisoners.

The long wing that extended east from the main tower housed a row of one-story prison cells holding those who violated city ordinances. An armed guard was situated on a platform along the north side of the structure.

Cells in the basement, referred to as “the dungeon,” were reserved for the most egregious scofflaws. In 1910, 115 acres was purchased just south of the Rock Island Railroad in the Leeds District for a new facility that was completed the following year.

Following its completion, only female prisoners remained, until the 1920s when the facility was taken over by the water department. The facility has been vacant for almost 30 years despite numerous potential buyers and plans for the unique and historic structure.

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