Moyamensing Prison

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Moyamensing Prison
Moyamensing Prison, c1840, 1848. (4700659588).jpg
1838 engraving of the prison
Alternative namesPhiladelphia County Prison, "11 Street Dock," "The Jug," "The County Hotel"
General information
Architectural styleGothic
Address1400 South 10th Street
Town or cityPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
CountryUnited States of America
Coordinates39°55′55″N 75°09′41″W / 39.931949°N 75.161340°W / 39.931949; -75.161340
Named forDelaware languages for "pigeon droppings"
Construction started1832
Design and construction
ArchitectThomas Ustick Walter

Moyamensing Prison was a prison in Philadelphia, in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It was designed by Thomas U. Walter and completed in 1835. In use until 1963, it was demolished in 1968.[1]


The prison's cornerstone was laid April 2, 1832, and completed in 1835.[2] For nearly 140 years the Moyamensing—or New County -- Prison dominated 1400 South 10th Street, at the southwest intersection with Passyunk Avenue and Reed Streets in South Philadelphia. It featured an Egyptian Revival wing. It was built to house 400 inmates, with a separate attached wing that would serve as a debtors' prison.[3] The Debtors' Apartment was built in this style in imitation of the Temple of Amenophis III, on the Isle d'Elephantine on the Nile.[4] But the Debtors' Apartment never served as such, as changes in law ended the imprisonment of debtors and the wing was combined with the main prison in 1868 and used to house women prisoners.[5]

Other than the Debtors' Apartment, most of prison was built in a castellated Gothic style with towers and battlements.[4] Its designer was Philadelphia architect Thomas Ustick Walter, who later designed the dome of the United States Capitol, the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives wings of the Capitol as they exist today.

On July 1, 1849, when Edgar Allan Poe was in Philadelphia, he drank, became drunk and hallucinatory, and made a suicide attempt. He was detained for public drunkenness and incarcerated for one night in Moyamensing Prison.[6] No records exist which support this story other than Poe's own account of it.

While imprisoned here in 1855, abolitionist Passmore Williamson became a focus of the press, as northern publications spread his story throughout the country. Friends comfortably furnished his cell, and he received letters and several hundred visitors including both Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Moyamensing Prison (1904)

One of America's first serial killers, H. H. Holmes, was incarcerated at Moyamensing Prison in 1895. While there, he wrote a memoir called Holmes' Own Story which included his Moyamensing Prison diary.[7] He also wrote a confession to twenty-seven murders that was publicized in The Philadelphia Inquirer.[8] Holmes was hanged at the prison on May 7, 1896.[9] Holmes' neck did not snap immediately; he instead died slowly, twitching over fifteen minutes before being pronounced dead twenty minutes after the trap was sprung.[10]

The prison was destroyed in 1968. Today, all that is left is a low heavy masonry stone wall remaining on the site along Reed Street where the Acme Market sits today.[2][11]

Further reading[edit]

  • Crighton, JD (January 2017). Holmes' Own Story: Confessed 27 Murders - Lied then Died. Murrieta, California, U.S.: Aerobear Classics, an imprint of Aerobear Press. ISBN 978-1946100016.


Coordinates: 39°55′55″N 75°9′43″W / 39.93194°N 75.16194°W / 39.93194; -75.16194