A Proper Regard for the Unfortunates:
Origins of the Jail System in Westchester County, N. Y.
(#5 of 9 parts)
By Anthony J. Czarnecki, Chief of Staff (ret.), Westchester County Correction Dept.
The text and images are presented here by permission of the author and the Westchester County Historical Society that published them as the cover article, "A Proper Regard for the Unfortunates," in the Spring 2006 edition of its Westchester Historian. All rights retained and reserved.

Four years later in 1875, another grand jury issued new findings that prodded the Westchester County Board of Supervisors to act on jail conditions. Their report was dated March 4, 1875:

Above: The 1856 County Jail in White Plains.

Pictured here on a postcard at the start of the 20th Century is the Westchester County Jail on Martine Avenue in White Plains.

A contemporary newspaper account described this institution as "a tramp's lodging house." The County Sheriff estimated that 80% of the prisoners were jailed for "intemperate habits" or alcohol-related crimes.

Photograph courtesy of Westchester County Historical Society. Click image to access that society's web site.

"We have personally visited our County Jail and have become firmly convinced that a separation of the sexes therein is urgently necessary both for the sake of morality and convenience and have also become firmly convinced some manner of work or employment would greatly benefit both the health and morals of the prisoners as it would also be of much pecuniary aid and saving to the county, We respectfully present our above convictions to the Board of Supervisors of Westchester County and urgently call their attention to the necessity of their taking immediate action in the matters referred to." [End note #29]

In an unusual move that reflected much frustration, the same grand jury re-adopted its resolutions concerning the County Jail on December 6, 1875, urged that "the Board of Supervisors make a proper appropriation to remedy the existing evils" and ordered that a copy of their grand jury minutes be served on the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. [End note #30]

The following year, the Westchester County Board of Supervisors was still struggling with funding and bonding the long-delayed enlargement of the County Jail, as indicated in a report by its Committee on Repairs and Supplies, dated December 13, 1876:

"The Committee recommends that it should be so enlarged that the sexes should be separated, that there should be hospital accommodations, and accommodations for witnesses detained by order of Courts and for juvenile offenders, whose crimes in many instances are more technical than real. The whole matter of enlarging the Jail or not enlarging it turns, of course, on the expense.

Above: A 1950s aerial view of St. Vincent's Hospital on North Street in Harrison.

Today the institution's web site declares: "St. Vincent's Westchester was founded by the Sisters of Charity in 1879. For more than 120 years, St. Vincent's Westchester has maintained a commitment to provide compassionate, respectful care to all in need of mental health and substance abuse services."

Credited by one genealogical source with being an attending physician at the found- ing of that hospital's ancestor institution -- St. Vincent's Retreat for Insane, Nervous and Alcoholic Diseases -- was Dr. Henry Ernest Schmid, who is mentioned as Westchester jail physician in the newspaper 1894 article quoted in the main text outside this image - caption box.

According to the "Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and Hudson River Valley" published by the New York Lewis Historical Publishing Co. in 1913, Dr. Schmid was at St. Vincent's Retreat for Insane, Nervous and Alcoholic Diseases, from its start "and is now consultant of that institution."

The same source also described him as a chief physician at White Plains Hospital, physician at Caroline Rest [Home for Children], Hartsdale, and the Presbyterian Rest [Home] at White Plains, president of [White Plains'] boards of health and of education, and a vestryman and senior warden of Grace [Protestant Episcopal] Church at White Plains.

The doctor's own life reads like a historical novel. The well-educated son of a Saxony books and newspaper publisher who had fallen into disfavor with the Prussian rulers, Schmid came to America in 1853 at age 19, took up the study of medicine and moved to White Plains in 1858.

The following year he was sent under the auspices of the Episcopal Board of Foreign Missions as medical missionary to Japan where he resided at Nagasaki. While there he established a small hospital within a Buddhist Temple.

Later he accompanied a British fleet that was surveying the Japanese islands. He unofficially but very usefully served as an interpreter and peacemaker on several occasions when suspicious natives seemed to threaten the foreigners.

He traveled aboard the British man-of-war visiting China, Korea, Java, Sumatra and southern Africa. His ship, having narrowly survived a typhoon, limped into Cape Town for repairs. Then it sailed to St. Helena, the Azores and finally to England. After an eventful three years absence, the doctor returned to White Plains.

In conjunction with his providing to the Smithsonian Institution various artifacts collected while in Asia, Dr. Schmid was made a member of the Oriental Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Schmid's second wife, Lucie, whom he wed in 1892, was the daughter of Eastern State Journal newspaper owner and editor Edmund G. Sutherland who had been the clerk of the Westchester County Board of Supervisors in 1858-61, board chairman in 1863-65, and State Senator from White Plains in 1866-67.

The founding of St. Vincent's Retreat for Insane, Nervous and Alcoholic Diseases, with which Dr. Schmid is credited as being associated, appears part of the emergence in the 19th Century of what became known as the "moral treatment" of mental and social ills. In this context, "moral" needs to be understood as "wise, respectful, patient but firm kindness." It was an integral part of a therapeutic regime that included good nutrition, recreational and occupational activity, and relaxed, stressless environment removed from the "bad" influences in the patient's past.

Anyone having any familiarity with the criminal justice system and correctional institutions is aware that persons having mental and/or substance abuse problems constitute a major portion of the inmate and defendant populations.

The 1894 newspaper article quoted in the main text to the left of this image/caption box quotes the sheriff as estimating that 80% of the jail's inmates had "intemperate habits" which were responsible for their being incarcerated.

The article concludes by noting that the "moral influences thrown around them are most salutary." Here "moral" could be read as referring both to the religious services, hymns, sermons and tracts and to the jail's healthy regime -- decent food, opportunity for reading, letter-writing, and conversation, firm but not harsh discipline.

The above image and caption did NOT appear in the original Czarnecki report or Westchester Historian article. They were crafted for this presentation by the NYCHS webmaster who inserts them as page design elements and for historical background. Click the image to access its web source: Wanda Husick's Deco Dog's fine vintage ephemera and Art Deco collectibles web site. It retains and reserves all rights.

"Your Committee felt the care of guarding the expenditures of the County, and fully realize the necessity of economy in all expenditures. The plans and rough estimates which were submitted to the Board last year are again submitted.

"Your Committee believes them to be as near what is needed as can now be brought forward. Your Committee would recommend, if the Board should think now to make the improvement, that the expense should be limited to not exceed $10,500 and it should be extended over a period of ten years." [End note #31]

Legislative resistance and public indifference contributed to the long postponement of needed changes to the 1856 Jail. Public officials largely reflected the public mood about crime and punishment in 19th Century America.

"The poor conditions of many 19th Century jails in America were generally acknowledged. Concern for this state of affairs was voiced by scattered groups across the country, but these groups were not able to effect a great deal of change. By and large their condemnations fell on unconcerned and unsympathetic ears," (according to James M. Moynahan and Earl K. Stewart in their "The American Jail: Its Development and Growth"). [End note #32]

In the absence of any national or state standards, conditions of confinement in local jails were slow to improvement.

"In the 19th century, notable changes took place in the function of jails... Changes in conditions and functions in the jail did not take place in all jails at the same time. Jails were locally operated and consequently affected by local matters.

"The speed with which a jail changed or initiated a new practice seemed to be subject not only to legislation but also to local, state, and regional considerations. Some jails changed overnight, but others took many decades to change even in the smallest way," (again according to Moynahan and Stewart). [End note #33]

The urgent concerns of the Physicians to the Jail, the Prison Association of New York, and the presentments of four grand juries did not seem to be formally addressed until the 1880s, when a new wing at the rear of the County Jail was finally constructed to house females in custody and create a hospital ward.

In 1883, the Committee on Repairs and Supplies of the Westchester County Board of Supervisors authorized a $14,300 contract to Edward O'Rourke to provide larger quarters at the County Jail. His was the lowest bid among 10 applicants, after Thomas Holden withdrew his proposal to complete the work for $13,900.

These long-overdue improvements corrected several operational deficiencies that were neglected in the original design and finally put the County Jail in good standing. During the remaining years of the 19th century, the 1856 facility seemed to function as a jail transformed.

In 1894, a local newspaper provided a first-hand account about the operation of the County's correctional facility under the headline "WESTCHESTER'S WELL-MANAGED JAIL: ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE COMFORT OF PRISONERS - A TRAMP'S LODGING HOUSE:

"Westchester County officers think the jail at this place is one of the best-managed institutions of its kind in the State, and visitors comment upon its neat interior.

"As the population of the county has increased in recent years, and crimes are more numerous, there are now about 200 inmates. Many, however, are vagrants and tramps, which the law requires to be arrested and committed by magistrates.

"The jail is situated about forty feet south of the Court House and is connected with it by a covered iron bridge in latticework from the second story, so prisoners may be conducted privately to and from the Courtroom at the time of trial with no possibility of escape.

"The jail is built of granite, is 68 feet long and 50 wide, with an addition, or extension, on the south end. It has 36 cells in three separate stories, 12 in each story. They are built of brick and are in the middle of the building, with a hall about twelve feet in width running around them.

"There are two doors leading from the interior - the entrance to the north end and that connecting with the addition on the south. The whole building is for jail purposes, there being no industries, as in Sing Sing Prison.

"The Women's Department is in the addition at the rear on the top floor. There are hospital accommodations on the south end on the second floor, where sick prisoners may be cared for without endangering other inmates The jail, including the culinary, is kept clean, neat, and in good order.

"The Sheriff receives from the County Board of Supervisors $3 per week for keeping each prisoner. This covers the expense of board, wash- ing, cleaning, and the wages of jailor.

Above: An illustration depicting one of the first 1873- 1874 anti-saloon pray-ins that led to the founding of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).

The 1894 newspaper article quoted in the main text outside this image-caption box noted that WCTU ladies periodically visited the Westchester County jail, an indication that the organization -- initially reviled publicly for its confrontational tactics -- had gained considerable social acceptance since its founding two decades earlier.

On Dec. 22, 1873, some Fredonia, N.Y., women -- credited with being the first to visit saloons to conduct pray-in and hymn-singing protests of the kind that became virtually a WCTU trademark -- also became the first to adopt Woman's Christian Temperance Union as their name.

The Lady Crusaders viewed liquor as an addictive substance that debilitated its users physically, mentally, morally and financially and that thereby contributed to destruction of family life and to weakening the community and nation as a whole.

At that time, saloons and liquor retailers carried on their trade with few, if any of the regulations and restrictions in place today. Then many, if not most towns were "wide open" so far as alcohol was concerned.

Helping energize the WCTU movement was Auburn, N.Y.-born Diocletian Lewis (better known as Dr. Dio Lewis), left.

Pioneer and popularizer of homeopathy, Lewis practiced it for several years in ante-bellum Buffalo.

There he published, wrote and edited a magazine advocating that physical education be part of public education and criticizing drug-oriented treatment of illness. "Homeopathic Doctor" Lewis is credited with helping to establish "Phys. Ed." classes in American schools.

Some post-Civil War decades later his written and spoken words promoting health through hygiene and attacking alcohol and tobacco as poisons provided "medical" backing for the anti-saloon crusaders who already had motivation on moral and social grounds.

Lewis died in Yonkers in 1886 at 63. His remains were cremated at Fresh Pond crematory, Queens.

The above images and caption did NOT appear in the original Czarnecki report or Westchester Historian article. They were crafted for this presentation by the NYCHS webmaster who inserts them as page design elements and for historical background. Click an image to access its web source, respectively the web sites of: the WCTU and the Homéopathe International. They retain and reserve all rights.

"The general condition as to health is good -- no pro- tracted cases of sickness. A physician - Dr. H. E. Schmid of White Plains at present - is appoint- ed by the Board of Supervisors . . . regularly visits the jail and super- vises its sanitary affairs.

"The prisoners have three meals a day, and the materials are all good and wholesome. The beef is usually boiled, and they also have stews and soup. For supper they generally have coffee and bread. They always receive enough to satisfy their appetite.

"No clothing is furnished by the county, except in extreme cases where prisoners really need it, which does not often happen.

"The cells, which are 12 feet by 8 feet in dimension in the main jail, are built of brick and cement and arranged in tiers The beds or bunks are about 7 feet long. There is a ventilator in each cell connected with the roof.

"Usually only one occupant is assigned to a cell, but when the jail is overcrowded there are two. There is no provision made for daily instruction.

"It is the opinion of the Sheriff that about 80% of the prisoners in the jail have been of intemperate habits, which are mainly the cause of their crimes.

"The prisoners are permitted to interchange letters with their friends, subject to the examination of the Sheriff.

"Religious services are held Sundays, and the ladies of the Women's Christian Temperance Union periodically visit the jail to talk and sing with the inmates. Tracts are occasionally distributed among the prisoners.

"Money is rarely, if ever, given to a prisoner on his discharge.

"Prisoners are allowed to converse with one another during the day.

"Discipline is strict but not severe; the comfort and health of the prisoners are well taken care of; the moral influences thrown around them are most salutary, and have been attended with encouraging results." [End note #34]

In that same year, the New York State Legislature enacted Chapter 687 of the Laws of 1894, which designated the office of Sheriff in Westchester County as a salaried position and authorized the Board of Supervisors to fix an annual salary not to exceed $10,000 payable monthly. It also authorized the Sheriff to employ a Jailor at an annual salary of $1,200.

Five years later in 1899, the State Legislature expanded the Sheriff's authority to employ

  • an Assistant Jailor for $900,
  • a Day Watchman at the Jail for $940,
  • a Night Watchman at the Jail for $900, and
  • a Cook at the Jail for $540 per year.

Above: A stretch of abandoned railroad track from the New York Central Putnam Division. Old 'Put' ended as a passenger carrier in 1958 and as a freight line in the 1970s.

The Putnam's Eastview Station served the nearby Westchester County Alms House in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The station also served the nearby Cochran estate, where race horses were raised by William F. Cochran, owner of the Alexander Smith Carpet Mills in Yonkers.

As noted in the main text, the Cochran estate, called Grasslands, was purchased by Westchester in the early 20th Century and served as the site for several county institutions including correctional facilities.

Mrs. Cochran was the daughter of Alexander Smith, founder of the Alexander Smith Carpet Company (sketch above), which for many years was an integral part of the Yonkers community.

The Cochran School of Nursing was founded in 1894 with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. William F. Cochran.

For more than a hundred years the Cochran School of Nursing, the oldest nursing school in Westchester County, has prepared students for careers in all phases of nursing. Its current address is 967 North Broadway, Yonkers.

Below is a vintage photo of Duncraggan, the North Broadway residence of Mrs. William F. Cochran. Many of the Duncraggan acres were purchased by Samuel Untermyer in the first half of the 20th Century, became part of his celebrated classical gardens complex and are now part of the Yonkers park that bears his name.

The above image and caption did NOT appear in the original Czarnecki report or Westchester Historian article. They were crafted for this presentation by the NYCHS webmaster who inserts them as page design elements and for historical background. Click an image to access its web source, respectively the web sites of: the Pierce Haviland photography and railroad history pages, the Friends of Philipse Manor Hall pages, and the Cochran School of Nursing pages. They retain and reserve all rights.

In 1910, four additional positions were authorized:

  • Jail Warden at $1,540,
  • Assistant Warden at $1,040,
  • Physician to Jail at $904 and
  • Matron to Jail at $600 per year.

In 1897, the Westchester County Board of Supervisors created a special committee to determine the possibility of building a new jail on a new site, due to its limited capacity. The committee suggested a site near the county almshouse at Eastview.

As an alternative, the Board decided to enlarge the 1856 Jail at a cost of $65,000 in 1898 and remove an unsightly 25-foot high wooden fence that surrounded the jail facility. Five years later in 1903, the original 1856 locking mechanisms (purchased for $503.50) were finally removed and replaced with the Pauley Locking System at a cost of $6,000.

In 1910, Sheriff Henry Scherp approved the installation of electric lights (with all wiring in iron conduit) at the County Jail for the sum of $325.

In 1914, the County Jail held 120 inmates, which was overcrowded because the City of White Plains also used the facility as a lockup. The following year, the County of Westchester acquired the 440-acre Cochran Farm in Eastview for $175,000 and the Board of Supervisors authorized the building of a Penitentiary & Work House on the grounds at a cost of $500,000 for construction and furnishings.

Unlike the Jail, which held inmates awaiting trial, the new Penitentiary would confine persons sentenced to short terms of imprisonment by the Courts in Westchester County.

The final design of the facility resulted from site visits to

  • the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia,
  • the New Jersey Reformatory at Rahway,
  • the Connecticut Reformatory at Cheshire, and
  • the Ontario Provincial Penitentiary at Guelph in Canada.

The building plans were approved by the N.Y. State Commission on Prisons in December 1915.

The following Biblical verse was engraved above the front entrance to the new Penitentiary:

"He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh the city." (Proverbs 16:32).

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The New York Correction History Society (NYCHS) presents here text and images from A Proper Regard for the Unfortunates: Origins of the Jail System in Westchester County, N. Y. by NYCHS member Anthony J. Czarnecki, Chief of Staff (ret.), Westchester County Correction Dept. We do so with permission from both the author and the Westchester County Historical Society that published the history as the cover article in the Spring 2006 edition of its Westchester Historian. All rights retained and reserved. The NYCHS webmaster added sepia tint to the grayscale images made available for this presentation. NYCHS acknowledges the help of Westchester Correction Sgt. Donald Smith and Sgt. Fred Anderson.