Two figures -- vastly different in outward appearance but both historically
significant in their own ways -- loom large in the story of New York County
Jail, better known as the Ludlow Street Jail. It opened in June 1862 at
the corner of Ludlow Street and Essex Market Place, near what is now the
Manhattan side of the Williamsburgh Bridge that was erected 40 years later.
Ludlow Jail was built with Philadelphia brick, ornamented with "New
Jersey freestone trimmings." It was constructed in the form of an "L,"
90 feet on each street, 40 feet deep and about 65 feet high, leaving an
angle of about 50 feet square. There, surrounded by a high wall, was situated
the yard where prisoners took their daily exercise.
The facility contained 87 cells, each about 10 feet square, considered
large enough to fit two beds, a chair, washbasin etc. Several long, wide
but barred windows were credited with providing such quantity of "light
and ventilation . . . probaby not surpassed by any prison in the United
Being a county jail as distinguished from a city jail or state prison,
its inmate population chiefly consisted of persons incarcerated in connection with civil offenses, although on occasion it was pressed into housing other categories of inmates. Having opened during the Civil War, the jail sometimes held inmates whose imprisonments were related to that conflict.
But the incarceration of two of its most notable residents had come about well after that war and had arisen from other kinds of conflict: the beauty, Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for the Presidency, and William Marcy "Boss" Tweed, the beast of municipal corruption. In 1872, the Presidential nominee spent her Election Night behind Ludlow's bars. In 1878, the Tiger of Tammany Hall took his last pneumonia-tortured breath within Ludlow's confines.