Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Islington Street Jail

The old Islington Street Jail is on the north side of Islington Street, opposite the intersection of Islington and Summer Streets.

Portsmouth built its first jail in 1699, on the south side of Congress Street, near the corner of Congress and Fleet Streets.

The second Portsmouth jail was located on the southeast corner of Porter and Chestnut Streets. This jail burned down during a major fire in 1781, when boys accidentally ignited a barn where the Music Hall is located today. The blaze also destroyed Langdon House, the home of Woodbury Langdon, and now the site of Rockingham House.

The following year, in 1782, Portsmouth built this wooden jailhouse (below). For twenty years or more, a pair of iron posts positioned in front of this building was used to immobilize recalcitrant prisoners while they were lashed with cat-o’-nine tails. Horse thieves were branded with a crossbar across their foreheads and a vertical stripe down their noses to form a ‘T’ tattoo. Fifty years later, these harsh punishments had been eliminated, and an adjoining (west) one-story stone jail was constructed, with a second story added later. This jail was used until 1891, when Portsmouth built a new jail on Penhallow Street, a building that still exists.
Portsmouth sold the old Islington Street Jail in 1907, the year these vintage photographs from the Library of Congress were taken.

When I walked Islington Street in search of the location where this old jail once stood, I was amazed to discover that the building still exists, although in a drastically modified state. At least, I believe this is the same building. I will let you be the judge by comparing the old pictures with my 2012 photographs.

Three dormer windows have been added, the left (west) side has been truncated, and the two second-floor windows on the right have been replaced by a single window. If you look closely, however, the bay window seems to be the same in both photographs, minus shutters today. Also, the second-floor window on the right is closer to the center window than the one on the left.

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