York County Prison
Located in York, PA
Photo © 2005 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
York County Prison History
The old York County Prison on Chestnut Street in York PA began as part of a complex of custodial buildings, including the York County Poorhouse and Hospital (where the Alexander Goode school now stands). The prison itself was an imposing castle-like structure built in 1853, with spread-out cell blocks in the rear that housed the inmates. The rear block was lined with two floors of cells, with a tall, central hallway in the center.
In 1906, the castle-like facade was torn down and replaced with the 30,000 square foot fortress-like brick structure that currently exists. This new prison was designed by architect B.F. Willis, and even had a trap door where hangings took place. The prison received some bad publicity in the 1950s, with reports of people being placed in padded cells to save on space, racial segregation during the night hours, bed bugs, and a report describing that the only meat served during a two week period was venison from roadkill brought back by police.
The prison closed its doors in 1979, as the facility moved to a new location in Springettsbury Township. The old prison was purchased in 1982 by John and Joyce Gearhart; after rioting at the overcrowded Camp Hill State Correctional Institution the family considered renovating the property into a privately run prison, but the idea was dropped. Many different plans for the building have also been proposed over the years, including parking, a bar, nightclub, hotel, vocational school, community arts center, retail shops, loft apartments, a Halloween business, and even a prison theme restaurant. In 2007, the Gearharts put the prison up for sale for $3.9 million, advertising it with posters reading "Wanted: $25,000 Reward for the capture of buyer for the Old York County Prison." The old cell block in the rear of the building from the original 1853 structure has been demolished.
The video below shows a short guided tour, which includes footage of the trap door used for hangings, and illustrates the proposed theme restaurant idea. John Pavoncello - yorkdispatch.com