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Sheriff's House and Jail Site

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1857–1858, Samuel Sloan. Market St., between Court House and Arsenal
  • Sheriff's House and Jail Site
  • Sheriff's House and Jail Site
  • Sheriff's House and Jail Site
  • Sheriff's House and Jail Site

The brownstone Italianate Sheriff's House runs counter to the local colonial, red-brick aesthetic. It is a remnant of a much larger correctional complex by a prolific Philadelphia architect, who modeled it on a facility he had completed in Norristown, Pennsylvania. (Later, in 1871–1872, he would design the Kent County prison and sheriffs house in Dover.) The New Castle Sheriff's House was erected by a renowned masonry firm of the Quaker City, Carman and Dobbins. Behind and extending north was the thirty-eight-cell jail (the whole forming an L), and towering stone walls on three sides enclosed a prison yard. Inside the wall (just back from the sidewalk and about half-way to the Arsenal) stood the infamous whipping post and pillory, long decried in the national press as “a Relic of Barbarism which the state refuses to abandon.” This “disgrace” made a lurid cover story for Harper's Weekly (1868), and the writer Theodore Dreiser denounced it after a visit in 1901 (Hakutani, 2003). Sturdy construction of Trenton, New Jersey, brownstone aimed to “impress one with an idea that escape would be almost impossible.” The jail was closed in 1901 and demolished a decade later, except for a few surviving cells, two doors to which are visible high on the rear wall of the Sheriffs House. The pattern of the jail's foundations is visible in the grass during droughts, and archaeology suggests that whole cells may remain buried underground. The Sheriff's House served as the New Castle Club in the mid-twentieth century. In 1963, the state senate voted money to pay for its demolition, one critic in the Wilmington newspaper calling it “the world's worst monstrosity,” but a campaign by a local editor helped save it. The town police occupied it from 1971 to 1997 but then moved out, citing its disrepair.

Writing Credits

Author: 
W. Barksdale Maynard
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Citation

W. Barksdale Maynard, "Sheriff's House and Jail Site", [New Castle, Delaware], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/DE-01-NC13.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Delaware

Buildings of Delaware, W. Barksdale Maynard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, 157-157.

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