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A Look At Sing Sing’s Original Cellblock

Sing Sing Correctional Facility's original cellblock, circa 1900. Photo Credit: Dana White.
Sing Sing Correctional Facility's original cellblock today. Photo Credit: Adam Wolpinsky.
The original cellblock was constructed in 1825 by Auburn State Prison inmates. It was 476-feet long and housed 1,200 inmates. Photo Credit: Ossining Historical Society Museum.

Sing Sing Prison, located in Ossining, is one of America’s most infamous prisons and most known for its lengthy and dark history. It has incarcerated famous inmates such as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, coined the phrase “up the river,” and was home to Old Sparky — the electric chair — which was used for 614 executions between 1891 to 1963.

However, inside of Sing Sing’s mile-high walls lies a Westchester throwback that is both dark and a part of American history: the original cellblock.

It was 1825 when Auburn State Prison faced overcrowding and sent over 100 inmates to construct a brand new state of the art maximum security prison in the village of Sing Sing—Ossining’s name prior to the prison garnering a notorious reputation. The new prison opened up in 1826, but construction wasn’t complete until 1828.

Sing Sing’s old cellblock was 476 feet long (the equivalent of a football field and a half), could hold 1,200 inmates, and was the largest building by volume in the U.S., according to Ossining Village Historian Dana White. Cells were seven-feet deep, 39-inches wide, and about six and a half feet tall. And, after a late 19th/early 20th centuries crime boom, had criminals from all over New York incarcerated here.

The old cellblock was closed in 1943 during World War II and the new cellblocks were constructed. Today, Sing Sing houses over 1,700 inmates and one of America’s most notorious maximum security prisons.

The building itself remains where it was built as a hollowed-out shell of its former self. It hasn’t been in use since it was closed down leaving the question as to what it should be used for.

Today, there is a lot of conversation about the old cellblock being a part of the proposed Sing Sing Prison Museum project. The actual museum has not become a reality but the original cellblock and powerhouse are planned to be a part of the museum in some way, according to White, who also sits on the board of the Sing Sing Prison Museum.

White further explained that the entirety of the old cellblock would not be used, but a portion or a “secured corridor” connecting the 1936 powerhouse and 1825 cellblock would -- and that this portion of the proposed museum is being prepared to be presented to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervisions.

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