Burlington County Historic Prison Museum marks completion of major restoration project

MOUNT HOLLY – Burlington County’s expansive and diverse history was celebrated Wednesday during a ceremony marking the completion of a major restoration project at the Burlington County Historic Prison Museum.

Located on High and Grant streets in Mount Holly, the stone and brick building housed criminals from 1811 to 1965 but is now a museum dedicated to the prison’s storied past and what life was like within its walls.

Among the recently completed renovations, the prison’s cedar roof was replaced, and much of its exterior and interior masonry was repaired and cleaned. Experts also preserved several sections of graffiti art and messages left by prisoners on the plaster cell walls.

“We are celebrating the Prison’s history and the work to preserve it so that current and future generations can continue to step back in time and learn about life here during the 1800s through 1960s,” said Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel, liaison to the Department of Resource Conservation and Parks during a ceremony celebrating the project’s completion. “By preserving and educating people about our past, we can gain important insights into our present lives and even our potential futures.”

Joining Eckel at the celebration were Burlington County Commissioner Deputy Director Dan O’Connell, State Senator Troy Singleton, State Assemblywoman Andrea Katz, Burlington County Administrator Eve Cullinan, New Jersey Historic Trust Board Chair Peter Lindsay and Janet Sozio, president of the Burlington County Prison Museum Association.

Also in attendance at the ceremony was Stan Fayer, a retired Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office investigator who was also once a guard at the historic prison during its final years in operation.

“Burlington County’s history is brimming with people, places and stories that helped to shape our region, state and nation,” said Senator Singleton. “Preserving this history is critically important. I want to thank the County Commissioners, the Historic Trust and all who played a part in helping to restore this important asset.”

The $2.9 million restoration project was completed with support from the New Jersey Historic Trust, which awarded the County a $526,500 grant to assist with improvements.

The building renovations were designed by Netta Architects, which also oversaw the construction and preservation work. John O’Hara Company served as the general contractor on the project, Watts Restoration performed the masonry work and contractors from Fania Roofing completed the roof replacement.

Experts from Jablonski Building Conservation performed the graffiti stabilization work.

The project was the first major renovation at the prison since 2001, when the County remade the museum’s interior and filled it with interactive exhibits, storyboards and cell re-creations.

In addition to the work at the Prison Museum, the County has also completed major projects to preserve additional historic sites, including Smithville in Eastampton, where industrialist Hezekiah B. Smith lived and manufactured high-wheel bicycles in the late 1800s.

Burlington County created the Lyceum of History and Natural Sciences in Mount Holly in the historic home of James Langstaff. The mansion is now a museum dedicated to the county’s extraordinary history, from prehistoric times through the turn of the century.

Earlier this year the Commissioners approved the distribution of close to $60,000 in grants to local government entities, historical societies and other nonprofits to assist with their operations and advance their historic preservation projects.

Commissioner O’Connell said the County’s investments in preserving and promoting history has yielded large returns.

“Preserving and promoting this history is essential to the quality of life residents enjoy here, plus the dollars we invest help create jobs, draw visitors and produce more business activity,” O’Connell said. “We’re proud of the restoration work done at the Prison Museum and our other historic sites and we want to encourage residents to take time to visit these places and learn about the people and circumstances that make them special.”

The Historic Prison Museum is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 AM to 4 PM and Sundays from noon to 4 PM. Groups of six or fewer people can also make arrangements for private tours on days the museum is closed. Audio tours and an escape game package are also available. For more information call 609-265-5476 or 609-265-5858. Information is also available online at https://www.co.burlington.nj.us/956/Prison-Museum.

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