Burlington County Prison Museum – Mount Holly, NJ
High Street and Grant Street, Mt Holly, NJ
Website – http://www.prisonmuseum.net/
It was supposed to be really hot and possibly rain, so Daddy Camp went with an indoor field trip to the historic Mount Holly Prison. Along for the ride was good ol’ Fake Uncle Pat (one of many fake uncles my kids have, boy will they be confused when they have to do a family tree project at some point).
You come into the prison, pay at the front desk, get a short history lesson, and are then free to explore the building. What you find is an awesome piece of history.
The prison opened in 1811 and was state of the art for it’s time. As you walk through the prison today, the cell doors are nearly all original, as they were not standard and were made to fit each door opening.
My favorite part (and the kids’ too) was the little slice of prisoner’s life that was left behind, their artwork that they drew on the walls. The Museum strives to preserve it, and, from calendars to trees to religious imagery, it gives insight into the life of prisoners.
Some of the cells have been put together as they would have looked when occupied, which gives some insight to how small these cells really are.
Most prisoners were here for a few months or a few years, but a few were here for the remainder of their lives. Lives that came to to end in the prison yard on the gallows.
The downstairs served as an office. It currently holds the furniture of legendary detective Ellis Parker, who is known as the Sherlock Holmes of the United States (but unlike Sherlock Holmes, is not a fictional character). He’s a remarkable figure, and you should learn more about him at http://detectiveellishparker.com/.
The basement contained the kitchen and workroom, which in later, more crowded days also held men, sometimes in bunk beds down the hallways.
The final part of the tour was the exercise yard, which also was used at times to grow vegetables for the kitchen.
By the time the prison finally closed in 1965 (due to overcrowding), the prison was the longest continually used prison in the United States.
The final thing worth mentioning is, for those who are into ghosts and things that go bump in the night, Mt. Holly Prison is supposed to be very haunted. Woooooooo!
Anyway, we had a great time here, and if you’ve never been, it’s well worth the stop!
Visiting information (as of 2018):
Thursday to Saturday, 10 AM – 4 PM
Sunday, Noon to 4 PM
$3 Over 55 and Military I.D.
$3 extra for Audio Tour
$2 Group Rate
Under 5 free
Make sure check http://www.prisonmuseum.net/ for current info!
To learn more, there’s a short documentary on youtube or you can pick up a copy of The Burlington County Prison: Stories from the Stones by Dennis Rizzo and Dave Kimball.
If you want more history OR hiking, Historic Smithville is just a few minutes drive away, which features beautiful hiking, ruins of old factories, Smithville Mansion, and restored workers houses that contain museums like the Burlington County Underground Railroad Museum.
Mount Holly has a whole day’s worth of awesome stuff. The Mount Holly Rail Trail is in town. The historic St. Andrews Cemetery (founded 1742) is next door to the Pine St trailhead and has a lot of old gravestones, including crazy old Hezekiah Smith who ran nearby Smithville. The Battle of Ironworks Hill during the Revolutionary War took place a short distance from here as well (it helped Washington win at Trenton two days later). Mill Race Village is also nearby, which has some cute shops, including the Pinelands Folk Music Center at 31 White St, from whom I will gladly accept one of those sweet dulcimers in exchange for this pitch to my millions of followers. I also highly recommend the Mt. Holly Fire & Ice Festival which happens every January-ish. Oh, and the Mt Holly Pumpkin Festival, which we walked to after the 2016 Hike It Baby hike!