Introduction of Penitentiary systemErection of first buildingAppointment of officers, etc.Erection of second prison BuildingWright elected keeperNames of clerks, etc.removal of prisoners to new Penitentiaryremoval of old buildingsSuit for the groundLaw to sell the groundNew PenitentiaryIts government, etc.Murder of SellsCholera in the prisonTable of officers, etc.

THE penitentiary system was first introduced in Ohio in 1815.  Previous to that time, the crimes since punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary, were punished by whipping.  For instance, the section of law relating to larceny, was as follows:

"That if any person shall steal the personal goods or chattels of another, such person so offending, shall be deemed guilty of larceny, and upon conviction thereof, shall be whipped not exceeding thirty-nine stripes, on the naked back; and on a second conviction of a like offense, shall be whipped not exceeding fifty stripes, at the discretion of the court; and in either case, shall


return to the owner the thing stolen, or the value thereof, if the thing stolen be not restored, with damages, and shall, in either case, be fined in a sum not exceeding three-fold the value of the property stolen, and be imprisoned not exceeding three months, at the discretion of the court; and in all cases where damages are allowed by this act, to any person who shall have property stolen, the petit jury who are elected to try the offender, shall, if they find a verdict of guilty, at the same time assess the damages."

The first statute of Ohio providing for punishment in the penitentiary, was passed the 27th of January, 1815, and took effect the first of August, 1815.  It provided:  "That if any person shall steal any money or other personal goods and chattels of another, of the value of ten dollars and upwards, every person so offending shall be deemed guilty of larceny, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be imprisoned in the penitentiary at hard labor for any space of time not more than seven years nor less than on year!"  Subsequently, in 1821, the law was so changed that a larceny of less than fifty dollars did not constitute a penitentiary offense; and, since 1835, the amount has stood at thirty-five dollars.

The first penitentiary building was erected in 1813, under the direction of William Ludlow, State Director of the public buildings.  Benjamin Thompson was the


undertaker of the mason work, and Michael Patton of the carpenter work.  It was a brick building fronting on Scioto street or lane, sixty by thirty feet on the ground, and three stories high, including the basement, which was about half above and half below ground.  The basement was divided into cellar, kitchen and eating-room for the prisoners, and could be entered only from the inside of the yard.  The next story above the basement, was for the keeper's residence, and was entered by high steps from the street; and the third, or upper story, was laid off into cells for the prisoners — thirteen cells in all — four dark and nine light ones.  The entrance to the upper story or cells, was from the inside of the yard.

The prison yard was about one hundred feet square, including the ground the building stood on, and was enclosed by a stone wall from fifteen to eighteen feet high.  Col. McDonald, of Ross County, was the contractor for the building of this wall.

Such is a brief description of the penitentiary buildings as they were from 1815 to 1818, when the new penitentiary, as it was then called, was erected, and the yard enlarged to about four hundred feet east and west, by about one hundred and sixty feet north and south, including the ground covered by the buildings.  The yard now extended to the foot of the hill, near the canal, and was graded into three levels, each gently descend-


ing to the west, with two perpendicular stone walls erected across the yard to the height of the level above.  These cross walls or jogs in the yard were about twelve feet high, with large steps to descend them.  The outer walls of the yard were probably about twenty feet high, and three feet thick, with a heavy plank floor on the top, and a hand rail at proper height on the inner edge.  In descending the wall from the first or upper level, to the second and third, or lower level, there were regular steps like stair steps, on the top of the wall.  The upper level of the yard was about equal in size to the other two–say two hundred feet east and west, for the upper yard, eighty feet for the middle yard, and one hundred and twenty feet for the lower one.  The work shops were principally arranged along the south side of the upper yard–coopers and blacksmiths in the middle yard–no shops in the lower yard.

The new prison house, or building, was of brick, about one hundred and fifty feet long, and about thirty-four feet wide, and two stories high, with the east gable end to the street, and forming a connected line with the front of the old building.  There were a tolerably commodious dining room and kitchen on the lower floor, and two adjoining rooms on the second floor, for hospital purposes, and fifty-four cells or lodging rooms, above ground,


and five dark and solitary cells below ground, which were accessible only by a trap door in the hall.

In the first or old building, the cells were torn out, and the building remodeled, and made a comfortable residence for the keeper.  These improvements were made under the direction of the State officers, namely:  Ralph Osborn, Auditor, Hiram Curry, Treasurer, and Jeremiah McLene, Secretary.  Judge Pike was agent under them to superintend the work.  The building of the wall was let out in parcels, to several different contractors.  The mason work of the house or prison, was taken by John Shields, and the carpenter work by Capt. Houston and John E. Baker.  The plan, particularly of the yard with its three benches or levels was, at the time, much admired, though it was afterward condemned, and was the principal cause for removing the institution to its present level site.

Pursuant to the act passed in January, 1815, for the government, etc., of the penitentiary, five inspectors were elected by joint ballot of the Legislature, whose province it was to appoint a keeper, and prescribe rules and regulations for the government of the institution.  Capt. James Kooken, then of Franklinton, received the appointment of keeper, took possession of the house, and entered upon the discharge of his duties on the first day of August, 1815; and Col. Griffith Thomas, now of


Perry Township, was by him appointed clerk of the institution.  Kooken was continued keeper, and Thomas clerk, with some two, three or four guards, until the office of agent was created.  In January, 1819, a law was passed creating the office of agent, and making the keeper and agent both electable by the Legislature for three years.  Capt. Kooken was elected keeper, and Col. Thomas agent.  The keeper and agent were now separate offices, independent of each other.  The keeper's powers and duties continued as before, except that he passed over all manufactured articles to the agent, whose duty it was to keep them in a store house provided for that purpose, contiguous to the prison; make the sales, collect the outstanding debts, and pay over all his cash receipts weekly to the Treasurer of State.

In February, 1822, the law was again changed, abolishing the office of agent; and Barzillai Wright was, by the Legislature, elected keeper in place of Kooken.  Wright was a stranger, from New Jersey, and had been only about three months in the State; and his election occasioned considerable murmuring and excitement among the friends of Kooken, both in and out of the Legislature.  It was contended that he was ineligible to the office, under the clause of the Constitution which provided, "That no person shall be appointed to any office within any county, who shall not have been a citi-


zen and inhabitant therein one year next before his appointment."  But, on the other hand, it was argued, that this was an office not mentioned in nor known to the Constitution, and the therefore the above clause was not applicable to it.

In the summer of 1823, Wright died, and Nathaniel McLean was appointed by Governor Morrow, to fill the vacancy, and was continued by election and reëlections by the Legislature, until the spring of 1830.  He was then succeeded by Byram Leonard, of Knox County; and Leonard was succeeded in the spring of 1832, by Wm. W. Gault, of Newark, who continued until the convicts were removed to the new penitentiary, in the fall of 1834.

During the whole term of business at the old penitentiary, a store of the manufactured articles was kept connected with the institution, and a general system of bartering was the policy adopted.  Blacksmithing, wagon making, coopering, shoemaking, gunsmithing, cabinet making, tailoring and weaving, were carried on in the prison, and the work and wares of the institution were sold or exchanged for provisions and raw materials, such as sawed lumber, staves, hoope poles, coal and fire wood, etc., or sold for cash, as cases might offer.  The care of the store and books was with the clerk.  The successive clerks after the abolition of the office of agent, in 1822,


were Cyrus Fay, Henry Matthews, George Whitmore, W. T. Martin, Nelson Talmadge, Timothy Griffith, and Uriah Lathrop.  Among the old hands enployed about the institution during the same period, were Joseph McElvain, Purdy McElvain, Joseph O'Harra, Arthur O'Harra, John Kelley, Hugh McGill, Thomas Webb, Samuel Gelin, Talman Chase, and others.

There were every year more or less escapes of prisoners by stealth, though but one daring rush.  About the year 1830, some dozen or more prisoners, having banded themselves together to force an escape, were secreted in a vacant cell, just inside of the outer door of the prison, and when the turnkey, Mr. O'Harra (now 'Squire O'Harra, of Franklinton,) had occasion to unlock the door, the daring Smith Maythe, who headed the gang, sprang forward and caught O'Harra round the body, and held him fast, while his comrades rushed out.  He then, letting go of Mr. O'Harra bounded forward and placed himself at the head of the gang, and they marched up past the mound, (there then being but few improvements to obstruct their way,) and on to the woods in a south-east direction.  They were advertised and finally all picked up, one or two at a time, and returned to the prison.  Poor Maythe, some years after his release from the Ohio penitentiary, was, for a case of


robbery and attempted murder, in Kentucky, hung by a mob, without judge or jury.

Under the law and regulations of the old penitentiary, the institution was charged with, and paid, the costs or prosecution and transportation of convicts — always a heavy item of expense.  But under the law and regulations for the government of the present penitentiary, the costs of prosecution and transportation are paid out of the State Treasury, and are not, in the Warden's annual exhibits, charged to the institution; which should not be overlooked in making a comparison between the exhibits of the old and the present institutions.

The old buildings and the ten acre lot upon which they stood, and which had been donated by the proprietors of the town to the State for the erection of a penitentiary thereon, were no longer needed, nor used in connection with the penitentiary; and the succeeding year the walls of the yard were sold by the State officers and were torn down, and the stones used, part for building purposes, and part burned into lime at a kiln erected on the lot for that purpose, by Jacob Strickler.  The main prison building, which had been erected in 1818, remained some two or three years longer, when it was also removed, leaving the original building, erected in 1813, and the brick store house, erected by Wright in 1822, still standing; and they were taken


possession of by the Quarter-Master General — the one as a place of deposit for the public arms, and the other as a work shop for cleaning and repairing the arms; thus converting the two into a kind of State Armory, and they so remained until 1855, when they were both razed to the ground, and the bricks used in filling in some part of the new State House; and the old lumber sold and removed.  So that now there remains not a vestige of the old penitentiary and its appendages; and the grading down of the streets, and the digging down and hauling away of a great part of the hill itself, for gravel and sand, has so changed the surface of the location where the prison and yard once were, that a person familiar with that place thirty years ago, could not now recognize it.

At the removal of the penitentiary, a question arose as to the title of the ten acre lot — whether it reverted to the proprietors of the town, or still remained in the State.  In the Legislature the question was twice referred (at different sessions) to committees of legal characters, and a majority each time reported in favor of the State's title; and on the 17th of March, 1838, an act was passed authorizing the Governor to have the ground laid out into town lots, and the lots appraised, and then sold; the ground was accordingly laid out and platted, and the plat recorded.  But discretionary power seemed


to rest with the Governor, and he never caused any sales to be made.  In the meantime, in March, 1847, Elijah Backus commenced suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County, for the recovery of this lot of land from the State.  The suit was brought in the name of Gustavus Swan and M. J. Gilbert against E. M. Slocum, then Quarter-Master General of the State, and who had possession of the buildings, as above stated.  It appears that they had some years before obtained a general quit-claim from the heirs of Kerr, McLaughlin, and Johnston, of all their then remaining interest in all lands on the town plat, or perhaps in the county.  How far these plaintiffs advised or controlled the suit, is not known to the writer; but it was generally understood the Mr. Backus was prosecuting for his own benefit, and while the plaintiffs had the temporary possession, he controlled it and received the proceeds.

As above stated, the suit was commenced in March, 1847 — E. Backus, attorney for the plaintiff, Henry Stanbery, Attorney General, for Slocum–and the cause was continued from time to time until June, 1851, when judgment was obtained for plaintiffs by default, Joseph McCormick then Attorney General.  August 23d, writ of possession issued, and on the first of September the Sheriff went through the formality of putting the plaintiff in possession.  Mr. Backus then became land-


lord, to rent the State its own buildings, and the sand and gravel of which the hill is composed being in very read demand, he made the best he could of that, realizing about a thousand dollars from that, exclusive of the rent of the buildings.

Now, in order to regain what had been lost by the neglect of the Attorney General, the state had in her turn to become plaintiff, and in March, 1852, suit was brought by the State in the Court of Common Pleas against S. W. Andrews, then Quarter-Master General, who was in possession under Backus, Geo. E. Pugh then Attorney General, and conductor of the suit; and November 30, 1852, judgment was rendered for the defendant, (against the State.)  An appeal was taken to the District Court, Geo. W. McCook now Attorney General; and September 21, 1854, judgment was rendered for the plaintiff, (the State,) and November 25th, writ of possession issued, and on the 19th of January, 1855, the writ was returned, indorsed, "I have executed this writ by putting the Secretary of State in possession of the premises as herein directed.  Thomas Miller, Sh'ff."

The State having now got in possession of its lot again, on the 17th of March, 1856, the Legislature passed an act vacating the old plat, except as to Mound street, and repealing the law of 1838, under which it was made, and directing the Governor to have the ground laid out into lots anew, re-platted, appraised and sold.  In the summer of 1857, this ground was re-platted, the lots advertised and a few sold, and the sale adjourned.

At the session of 1857-8, the Legislature, on the petition and memorial of Martha McLaughlin, widow of Alexander McLaughlin, deceased, appropriated one thousand dollars to be paid to her out of the proceeds of these lots.


On the 11th of February, 1832, an act was passed by the Legislature, providing for the erection of a new penitentiary.  It provided for the election by the Legislature, of three Directors to select and procure a site, and direct and control the erection of the buildings.  They were to receive a salary of one hundred dollars each per year, for their services, and were required to appoint a superintendent to project the plan and superintend the work, at a compensation not exceeding one thousand dollars per year.

At the same session, Joseph Olds, of Circleville, Samuel McCracken, of Lancaster, and Charles Anthony, of Springfield, were elected Directors; and on the 4th of


May 1832, they appointed Nathaniel Medbery, superintendent.  A lot of fifteen acres of land, where the prison is erected, was procured by the citizens of the north end of town, and donated to the State as an inducement to the location of the institution at that point.

On the 27th of October, 1834, the buildings being completed, Nathaniel Medbery was, by the Directors, appointed the first keeper of the new penitentiary by the title of Warden, and on the day following the convicts were removed from the old to the new prison.  Colonel Gault was the keeper of the old prison, and his time did not expire until the ensuing spring.  But his charge was marched away from him, and he continued to occupy the keeper's apartments in the old institution in quietness until spring, and claimed his salary.

On the 5th of March 1835, Isaac Cool was appointed Deputy Warden, Rev. Russell Bigelow Chaplain, Dr. M. B. Wright Physician, and H. Z. Mills Clerk.  The prison was now governed by a new law, new officers and new rules and regulations.  Rules of great severity were adopted, and rigidly enforced.  The old system of barter was abandoned, and instead of the State manufacturing articles for sale, as formerly, the convicts were hired by the day to large manufacturers, who worked


them in prison shops, as at present, and the keeping of a store, or sale room, was thus dispensed with.

The failure of the old penitentiary, both in a pecuniary and reformatory view, had generally been attributed to the insufficiency of the buildings, and to the lax government of the institution; and high expectations were entertained that under the new system a revenue would be produced to the State, and a moral reformation wrought upon the convicts.  But time has proven the delusion of both these expectations.  If we charge the institution with the costs of prosecution and transportation of the convicts, as formerly, the annual deficits will not be less than under the old system.  And as for the reformation of the discharged convicts, the police of Columbus could testify not very favorably.  Within a few years past the rigid rules and discipline have been giving way to more kind and humane treatment.  The odious "lock step" was first abandoned, then "shower baths" and the use of the "cat" were also abandoned, and solitary confinement substituted.

The only officer of the institution whose life has been taken by a convict, was Cyrus Sells, in 1843.  The convict was transferred to the county jail, tried in the Court of Common Pleas, convicted and executed in February, 1844.

In 1849, the cholera broke out in in the prison on the


30th of June, and between that time and the 5th of August, one hundred and sixteen convicts died of that disease.  The highest number of deaths in one day was on the 10th of July, when twenty-two died.

Doctor Lathrop was the regular prison physician, and he was assisted by Doctors William Trevitt, John B. Thompson, Robert Thompson, B. F. Gard, J. Morrison, N. Gay, G. W. Maris, and _____ Matthews, and several medical students, and some citizens who volunteered their services as nurses, etc.

Doctors Lathrop and Gard both fell victims to the disease.

In the fall of 1850, from the 31st of August to the 29th of November, there were twenty-one deaths by cholera, in the prison—none since.

362 & 363

Year. Directors. Warden. Dep. Warden. Clerk. Physician. Moral Instructor.
1834 Jos. Olds, Sam'l McCracken,
Chas. Anthony
N. Medbery None None    
1835 Same Same Isaac Cool H. Z. Mills M. B. Wright Russel Bigelow
1836 Jos. Olds, S. F. McCracken, Benj. Allen Same John Huffman Same Wm. M. Awl  
1837 Jos. Olds, S. F. McCracken, Benj. Allen Same Same Same Same  
1838 Same Same Same Same I. G. Jones Rev. M. Fitch.
1839 Allen Latham, Jos. Olds, John McElvain Wm. V. Van Hook Same Same P. Sisson,
D. Wolfley
1840 John McElvain, Sam. Spangler, Wm. Spencer Same Same Same P. Sisson Same
1841 Wm. Spencer, Sam. Spangler, John McElvain Same Same Same I. G. Jones Sam. F. Mills
1842 A. H. Patterson, Andrew McElvain, Wm. Spencer Rich'd Stadden Same Same P. Sisson Same
1843 Robt. Lee, A. H. Patterson, A. McElvain John Patterson Same Same Wm. Trevitt Same
1844 Robt. Lee, A. McElvain, John Greenwood Same None J. V. McElvain Same Same
1845 B. F. Gard, Robt. Lee, John Greenwood John Patterson None J. V. McElvain P. Sisson Sam. F. Mills
1846 B. F. Gard, Horatio J. Cox, J. Ridgway Laurin Dewey None Same H. Lathrop J. B. Finley
1847 B. F. Gard, H. J. Cox, J. Ridgway Same Sam'l Bradford Same Same Same
1848 H. J. Cox, Jos. Ridgway, Thos. Brown Same John Huffman Same Same Same
1849 Jos Ridgway, Thomas Bron, Matthias Martin Same Same Same Wm. Trevitt Same
1850 Thos. Brown, M. Martin, David Gregory Same Same Same J. B. Thompson Same
1851 M. Martin, D. Gregory, C. L. Eaton D. W. Brown Same Jno. R. Griffiths Same W. S. Roberts
1852 James Lennox, Wash. McLean, C. J. Orton A. G. Dimmock Same S. J. Price B. F. Johnson J. T. Donahoo
1853 Jas. Lennox, C. J. Orton, G. T. Barnum Same R. W. Watson Same Same Same
1854 J. P. Bruck, J. D. Morris, J. B. Buttles Sam'l Wilson John Huffman R. S. McEwen A. DeLezinski L. Warner
1855 J. P. Bruck, J. D. Morris. T. P. Spencer J. B. Buttles Same Same John Dawson Same
1856 L. G. Van Slyke, A. P. Stone, Cyrus Spink, J. D. Morris Jno. Ewing John Huffman, Act. Dep. Ward. V. Rich J. W. Hamilton Same
1857 Same (With the exception of Stone, who resigned, and C. Breyfogle was appointed in his place.) Same Same Same Same Same

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