Prison Record Repository & Reformatory

(c. early 20th century)

Early in the 20th century, these red-brick buildings replaced the Civil War-era barracks where workhouse inmates resided. The buildings were designed without bars, offering an alternative approach to that of Blackwell’s Penitentiary on Roosevelt Island. Young men convicted of misdemeanors who resided on Hart Island were required to work as part of their rehabilitation. They were instructed in “useful trades” such as ironwork, shoemaking, landscaping, agriculture and burying the dead. Workhouse records were kept in a guardhouse facing a u-shaped cell block. The facility closed in 1966 and the inmates moved to Rikers Island, but in 1982, Mayor Koch re-opened a work camp on Hart Island of about 50 inmates who were tasked with restoring the buildings damaged by vandals. They resided in the Nike base military barracks (site 8). In 1985, residents of City Island filed a lawsuit preventing the DOC from reopening a prison on Hart Island, so the inmates left and the land formerly reserved for institutions became burial grounds.

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