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Jersey City Past and Present: Hudson County Jail & Penitentiary

Hudson County Jail - Images

Hudson County Jail

Hudson County Jail

Old Hudson County Courthouse & Jail

Courtesy, RF Smith

Hall of Records (Administration Building), Hudson County NJ

Courtesy, RF Smith

Hudson County (Brennan) Courthouse

Courtesy, RF Smith

Location: Old Hudson County Courthouse & Jail Site

Hudson County Jail & Penitentiary

Hudson County Jail
Newark Avenue and Pavonia Avenue
Between Central Avenue and Baldwin Avenue

In 1845, a small stone jail house was constructed on a plot of land adjacent to the first Hudson County Court House. The jail was a three story building containing "eight close cells and three day cells, with suitable apartments for the jailer" (McLean, p.44). Like the court house, the jail was extended and enlarged as more space was needed. The eastern end of the Hudson County Administration Building covers the site today.

A new Hudson County Penitentiary capable of housing 180 inmates was built in the more isolated western edge of the county in 1870. Located at Snake Hill at the southern end of what is now Secaucus, the penitentiary was part of a large county institutional complex that included an almshouse, an insane asylum, special quarantine hospitals, and a farm. Today's Laurel Hill County Park occupies much of the site.

The old jail on Newark Avenue continued to be used into the first quarter of the twentieth century. Following years of controversy over the need for a new facility, the county freeholders finally announced plans to construct a new jail in January 1926. Jersey City architect John T. Rowland, Jr. designed an imposing five-story monolith of granite and brick which was expected to cost $1,500,000. The new jail, located on the north side of Pavonia Avenue between Willow Court and the Court House station of the Central Avenue trolley line, opened on May 20, 1926 and could accommodate approximately 250 inmates.

The Hudson County Penitentiary in Secaucus was closed in 1953, following a roof collapse a year earlier. The inmates were then housed at the county jail ultimately leading to severe overcrowding and related problems at the Jersey City location in its later years. The remaining county institutions in Secaucus were also relocated in the early 1960's and the old buildings were demolished. Much of the Snake (Laurel) Hill was leveled as large quantities of rock were quarried and removed for road construction, but the county's plans to redevelop the site as an industrial park never came to fruition.

In June 1990, the new Hudson County Correctional Facility opened in the southern tip of Kearny near Truck Routes 1&9. The old Pavonia Avenue jail was closed by the end of that year and stood vacant until demolition started in May of 1995.

Hudson County Jail & Penitentiary - References

"Hudson County Jail Plans are Announced." New York Times 8 January, 1926.
McLean, Alexander. The History of Jersey City, N.J. Jersey City, NJ: F.T. Smiley and Co., 1895.
Newman, Andy. "Bit by bit, a Dreary Landmark Comes Down." New York Times 16 July, 1995.
Stover, Mark. "Snake Hill, Mountain of Memories." New York Times 7 April, 1996.
Weiss, Peter. "Old County Jail Busted." Jersey Journal 11 May, 1995.