Monday, May 11, 2009

Hastings’ First Jail

This photograph of the village “lockup” has attracted 72 “views” on our Flickr site! So when we came across an old article that mentions the history of the local jail, we decided to share it with you. The 1933 Hastings News article is from a series by an anonymous writer on the early mayors of Hastings, who were called presidents until 1927. This particular article is on the tenure of Joseph Phillips, who was president from 1884 to 1887.

Joseph Phillips, village president from 1884 to 1887

Phillips was a painter, and his house and shop were at the corner of what is now Main Street and Warburton Avenue, in the same spot as Suburban Renewal. He must have had an excellent reputation, for the article says that when Hastings oldtimers wanted to praise any piece of work, they would call it “a Phillips job.”

Warburton Avenue, looking north from the bridge, ca. 1905. The entrance to Main Street is on the right, and the large building on the corner was, in the 1880s, Joseph Phillips' home and store.

Here is what the article has to say about the jail:

Joseph Phillips, village president number four, had no major crisis with which to contend. The building of a village lockup seems to have provided the main difficulty of his successive terms of office...

Phillips and his board of trustees had a lockup built in the summer of ’86 at the foot of Washington Avenue. John Schlachter, village carpenter, had finished the iron-bound wooden shack, and it was ready for occupation, when a certain Mr. Ezra Munsen, Washington Avenue property owner, decided that a lockup would not improve property values. He employed a clever Tarrytown attorney, Lucius T. Yale (of the Yale lock family) to prevent the lockup from being officially opened. Yale was able to secure an injunction preventing the board of trustees from opening the new jail…. John Schalchter was told to move the lockup to a situation on the bank of the creek (now occupied by the Station Plaza).

The lockup had become “the house that Jack built” in the Hastings newspaper of the day. Village drunks were assumed to prefer its new position, which was more sheltered than its first bleak site on the river bank.

The Hastings Record of the time, leading weekly paper of the community, had several verses of doggerel to celebrate the move. A stanza ran:

This is the house that Jack built;
This is the Yale lock, tumbled and strong,
That helped the friendly injunction along;
For the winter boarders singing a song,
The song of the house that Jack built.

The 1889 map above (a detail from an insurance map in our map collection) shows the jail in its “new position.” In 1933, when the article about the jail was written, this area was called Station Plaza. We would now call it Zinsser Plaza, the parking lot across the street from the railway station. As you can see from the map, the area was called Depot Square in the 1880s. Southside Avenue had not yet been built, but you can orient yourself by looking at the train tracks at the top of the map and the street called Valley Street, which is now the part of Southside Avenue that runs down to the train tracks from the Municipal Building. The “lockup” is on the far left, next to Ravine Brook, the creek that used to run all the way down through the Ravine.

The photograph of the lockup at the top of the blog was taken by local druggist Hanford C. Todd around 1905. He used it in a pamphlet of local historic views that he had for sale in his store, so by 1905 this particular jail had probably been abandoned. The photograph appears to have been taken looking north from the jail toward the entrance to Valley Street.
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