A Second Reformatory

Elmira was internationally famous, partly on the strength of its revolutionary achievements ---but partly also due to Superintendent Brockway's "policy of publicity." Advertisements for the program -- in the form of lengthy annual reports and other publications -- were printed on Elmira's press and mailed by the thousands to any and all interested parties, including criminal court judges. The judges remembered the Elmira Reformatory when it came time to hand down sentences. By the late 1880s, Elmira was critically overcrowded despite the construction of additional cells. It was time for a second men's reformatory.

In 1892, Governor Roswell P. Flower signed legislation authorizing an institution to be located in Ulster County and called the Eastern New York Refortnatory -- "Eastern" to distinguish it from the NYS Reformatory at Elmira to the west. The act called for the appointment of "three disinterested and reputable citizens" to select a site, instructing them to have "due regard" for such considerations as "wholesome water, proximity or accessibility to railroad communication and suitableness of soil for the growth and cultivation of fruits and vegetables."

The little hamlet of Napanoch ---it had then a population of about 800 -- had fertile soil and abundant water (in the language of the Lenape Indians, "Napanoch" meant "land overflowed by water"). The railroad reached Ellenville, just two miles south, and it was believed that tracks would soon extend directly into Napanoch; in the meantime, transportation was available via the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) Canal. A further advantage was the plentiful supply of building stone in the Shawangunk Mountain ridge. The location commissioners recommended Napanoch and, in April of 1894, Governor Flower signed a bill designating the site. Later that month, the Governor appointed three new "building commissioners" to purchase land and oversee construction of the new institution.

The building commissioners purchased the 272-acre LeFever farm in the plain between the picturesque Shawangunk Mountain Ridge and the meandering Rondout Creek, with the Catskills in the distance to the west. The D&H Canal ran alongside the Rondout. Crossing the creek was a covered bridge, and immediately on the other side was the small residential and commercial center of the tiny village of Napanoch.

Plans were drawn by the architect John R. Thomas of NYC and approved by the State Board of Charities. The institution would feature the turreted central colossus. Two wings of cellblocks would run north and south of the central structure, parallel to the Shawangunk Ridge and the Rondout Creek and canal. The main building and cell wings would constitute the front portion of the wall, which was to enclose 23 acres of the institution proper. Beyond the walls, farms would be worked. Streams running down the mountain ridge would be dammed to supply water for the prison.

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