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Eastern State Penitentiary

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
County of Philadelphia.
21st Street and Fairmount Avenue
National Register Number: 66000680
Resource type: Building.
Property type: Government - correctional facility. The threat level was Threatened in
Congressional District: PA-3 Certified Local Government: YES
This NHL offers public access.
Please contact the NHL directly for visitor information.
Current use/information: Open for tours..

Statement of Significance (as of designation - June 23, 1965):
Constructed between 1823-1836 from a design by noted American architect John Haviland, this massive Gothic Revival structure epitomized the Pennsylvania System of imprisonment, a system grounded in the Quaker concept of reflection through solitary confinement and the belief that labor should teach the prisoners trades. The largest building project of its day, the penitentiary drew thousands of visitors, many from abroad. As a result, it influenced the construction of over 250 prisons worldwide.

The Penitentiary was closed in 1970 and abandoned for 26 years during which it became severely deteriorated. Standing today as a semi-ruin, Eastern State has been named to the World Monuments List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.

A Save America's Treasures matching grant for $500,000 received in 2000 will help to stem further deterioration by restoring roofs.

Recommendation/Change since last report:
In 1994 the Landmark opened for a seasonal tour program assisted by the National Park Service and operated by the Pennsylvania Prison Society. The program attracted 11,000 visitors the first year. In 1996 the Society entered into a 10-year agreement with the City to develop the Penitentiary. Since then annual visitation tops 50,000, and new roofs have covered the entrance building and the first of seven Haviland cellblocks. A recent grant from the Save American's Treasures program will be used for additional roof work. Continued stabilization work to stop the ongoing damage to the other buildings is paramount to save this Landmark. Long-range plans also call for public amenities--the site has no heat or water--and expansion of interpretive programming. With its 140-year history as an operating prison, Eastern State Penitentiary has the potential to be not just another museum, but the center of the interpretation of some of the most important and controversial issues in American society.

Comments and questions about the database may be directed to NHL_info@nps.gov