An abandoned mine with a quarry on the Hudson River east bank was purchased as the prison site. Soon after quarry work began in 1825, the stone's inferior quality became evident, It took longer to shape into construction blocks.

( excerpts )

Built in 1828 as the third prison in New York State, Sing Sing Prison rose from the rocky shores of the Hudson River. . . .

The first prison in New York, called Newgate, was built in 1797 . . . in Greenwich Village. . . near the present-day Christopher Street, also on the shores of the Hudson River. . . .

In 1816, a second prison called Auburn State Prison. . . .The Auburn system implemented separate confinement at night and perpetual silence during the day. The prisoners worked in shops during the day and spent the nights in total darkness.

By 1824 . . . It became evident that a new prison would have to be built.

A legislative committee requested Capt. Elam Lynds, the warden of Auburn prison, to assist in planning, choosing the site, and constructing a new prison. . . . He and the commission selected the Silver Mine Farm at Mount Pleasant near the village of Sing Sing.

The name Sing Sing was derived from the Native American words Sint Sinks (a local tribe), which is a variation of the term Ossine Ossine, meaning "stone upon stone."

This site, 30 miles north of New York City, offered a quarry that would provide stone for the construction of the prison. . . with the use of inmate labor . . . at little cost to the state.

That March, in 1825, the commission appropriated $20,100 for the purchase of the 130-acre site. Lynds . . . hired architect John Carpenter to draw plans for the new prison, using Auburn's north wing as a model.

[Lynds] selected 100 of his prisoners, loaded them onto barges, and headed toward the Hudson River on the Erie Canal. The prisoners were transferred to freight steamers and sailed down the Hudson River to Sing Sing.

They arrived at the site on May 14. . . . On the first day, a temporary barracks, a cookhouse, blacksmith, and various shops were erected.

By 1826, 60 of the 800 proposed cells were completed . . . By the summer of 1827, 158 men were quarrying stone and working construction.

As the quality of the stone on site was found to be inferior, the work progressed slowly and the building was finally completed in October 1828.

The completed cellblock measured 476 feet long by 44 feet wide and was four tiers high. Each cell was seven feet deep, three feet three inches wide, and six feet seven inches high.


"This image shows the old cellblock as it appears today with the stone around the iron door having been restored.

"Notice the tiny slitlike windows that had permitted little sunlight to enter this building 178 years ago. (Courtesy of Burns Patterson.)"

"The old cellblock from 1825 is shown as it looks today.

"A fire burned the roof off in 1984, and only the outer walls remain. . . .

"This structure has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places . . . (Courtesy of Burns Patterson.)"

Left: Inmates transferred from Newgate pause and pose during work shift at Sing Sing quarry. Ex-Newgaters didn't fit in well with Lynd's regime.
Right: "By 1830, inmate labor was quarrying marble and grannite for sale on the open market. . . these contracts were terminated around the turn of the century owing to pressure from labor unions."

NYCHS presents these text and image excerpts from Images of America: Sing Sing Prison by permission of its author Guy Cheli who retains the copyright © and reserves all rights thereunder. For more about his book, contact Arcadia Publishing at and/or Ossining Historical Society at

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Mark Gado's
Stone Upon Stone:
Sing Sing Prison
1914 - 17
Sing Sing Warden
T. M. Osborne's
Within Prison Walls
Guide to papers
of 1914 - 17
Sing Sing Warden
T. M. Osborne
John Jay Rouse's
Bio of Sing Sing
1920 - 41 Warden
Lewis E. Lawes