But the island had yet another career. For a century, it housed a grim penitentiary, where inmates passed their sentences along the banks of the East River, within tempting sight of freedom on the nearby shores.
The penitentiary, a long gray arcaded structure, was completed in 1832 on what was then Blackwell’s Island. Castlelike crenelations running along the roofline and a chubby turreted tower of a “feudal character” lent a “certain rudeness” to the work, according to Appleton’s Dictionary of New York of 1886.
The New York Spectator reported in 1836 that the original plan had been to split the island in half with a canal to separate male and female inmates. This precaution was never taken, although the women got their own building.
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