Just in time for Halloween, we toured Burlington County Prison, one of America’s most haunted prisons! Read on to learn more about this historical building, the people inside, and why it’s considered to be haunted.
About Burlington County Prison
The Burlington County Prison, located in Mount Holly, NJ, was once the oldest continually used prison in the United States. The previous prison was located in Burlington City, about 8 miles away from the courthouse. The long commute made it expensive to transport prisoners when they needed to be in court and also made it easier for prisoners to become flight risks. The county decided they needed to build a prison closer to the courthouse, so they built it right next door.
The prison was designed by the famous architect Robert Mills, who is responsible for the Washington Monument and The Treasury Building. The design of the prison was unique in many ways. It was the first prison to separate inmates into cells based on the severity of their crimes. Previously, all prisoners shared one room, no matter what the crime.
In Burlington County prison, where a prisoner was located corresponded to the severity of their crime. The top floor was for more serious crimes. These prisoners had smaller rooms with smaller windows. Women prisoners were also separated from the men.
Burlington County was also the first prison to have heat, with fireplaces located in the cells. The ceilings were arched to help with air circulation. The cell doors were designed so that they couldn’t be removed and the walls of the prison were 18″ thick, to help avoid escape attempts. The prison was also designed to be a home for the warden and his family. They later moved into the house next door.
Upon entering the prison, inmates were given a bath, new clothes, and new shoes in an attempt to prevent lice. They slept on a straw mattress and were provided with a thin blanket. Each prisoner also was given a bucket to use as a toilet, until indoor plumbing was installed.
Since Robert Mills believed that religion would help reform prisoners, inmates were also given a bible, but the text was so small inside that it was nearly impossible to read… if you even knew how to read.
Food was prepared in the prison kitchen. The warden was given a budget of $1.50 per day to provide meals for each prisoner, which was a good amount of money back then. He was also told that if he could feed the prisoners for less than that, he could keep the difference, so you can imagine how bad the food was in Burlington County Prison.
The prison also had a workshop, where inmates could pay off the debts that landed them in prison and learn new skills. Robert Mills believed having a workshop would help reform prisoners, but the average stay for an inmate was about 90 days, so they didn’t learn much during their time in the prison. Eventually, the workshop was shut down due to business owners complaining that the products the prisoners were making were affecting their businesses.
Inmates passed the time in the workshop, the outdoor exercise yard, or by drawing on their cell doors. Throughout the prison, we saw lots of graffiti.
One of the inmates, who had been a worker on the SS Saint Paul, spent his time creating a replica model of the ship with spare items he found around the prison. The replica was sold years ago, but in 2010, the prison bought it back and it’s now on display in the prison.
The Women of Burlington County Prison
The women in Burlington County prison had much fewer privileges than men. They stayed in a separate wing and were rarely allowed to leave their cells. They were given meals inside their cells instead of being allowed to eat in the dining area. They also were not allowed access to the workshop or outdoor exercise yard.
If a woman inmate had no one to watch her children, the children stayed in the cell with her. Several women inmates were pregnant during their stay at Burlington County Prison and few gave birth while incarcerated.
Escapes, Murders and Executions
Burlington County Prison has a dark history of escape attempts, murders, and executions. In 1876, 5 men attempted to escape by punching a hole through the ceiling. According to our tour guide, 1 man was too big to fit through the hole and ended up telling the guards what was going on. Only 2 of the 4 men that escaped were found and returned to the prison.
In 1933, Eddie Adamsky, a mob figure locked up for attempting to pawn a ring he got in a heist, escaped by sawing off the bars on his cell window and climbing down 20 feet with a rope he made out of bedsheets.
In 1920, the Warden was delivering medicine to an inmate and was beaten to death with an iron rod after opening the door. That same inmate murdered another inmate in the kitchen while trying to escape. That same year, 2 prisoners beat guards to death with a steel bar. They were found to be insane and transferred to an asylum nearby.
9 executions took place at the prison. All executions were done by hanging and occurred soon after prisoners were convicted of their crimes (2 months on average). Depending on the size of the person being executed, sheriffs would use either a full or half rope for executions. Bigger people only needed a half rope, since their body weight would break their neck faster. Since sheriffs didn’t have a ton of experience in executions, they often got this wrong, making the executions quite grim to watch. Most people ended up dying by strangulation rather than a broken neck.
Haunted and Paranormal Activity
It’s been said that Burlington County Prison is the most haunted building in New Jersey. Several paranormal investigators have claimed to see orbs inside the prison. During the prison renovations, workers reported that their tools went missing and they heard voices throughout the hallways. Several visitors have claimed they had a feeling that they were being watched, even though there was no one around.
One of the most haunted areas of the prison is known as “the dungeon”. It is where prisoners spent their last days before being executed chained to the floor. Robert Mills designed this room to have angled walls so prisoners were forced the center of the room so they could be watched at all times.
Freaked Out Yet?
Although we didn’t experience any paranormal activity ourselves, we definitely felt the sense of creepiness throughout this prison. The prison has a dark, but interesting history. We thoroughly enjoyed our tour and learned a lot. We highly recommend checking out the Burlington County Prison Museum…if you dare.
Details – Burlington County Prison Museum
Thursday through Saturday – 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Sunday – Noon – 4:00 PM
Closed on all major holidays.
128 High St, Mt Holly, NJ 08060
$5 Adults ($3 extra for Audio Tour )
$3 Over 55 and Military I.D.
$2 Group Rate
Under 5 is free
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