The old Essex County Jail was built in 1837 in the University Heights section of Newark, New Jersey. It was designed by architect John Haviland, a major figure in the American Neo-Classical architecture of the 19th century, most notable for Eastern State Penitentiary. Known then as Newark Street Jail, it was built to replace an earlier structure built at the present site of the Grace Episcopal Church.
The jail consisted of a two story square building, built of brick and local brownstone in the Greek Revival style. In 1890, the original building was expanded with multiple additions increasing the number of prison cells up to 300. The jail was also updated to include running water and toilet facilities in each cell. Later expansions also took place in 1895, 1904, and 1909.
The prison closed in 1970 after a new jail was built. Initially, the Essex County Narcotics Bureau moved in and used the building until a judge ordered the evacuation of the building due to deteriorating structural conditions.
In 1991, scenes for Spike Lee's film Malcolm X were shot at the jail and at the same year Essex County Jail was added to the National Register of Historic Places. However, the lack of maintenance and a fire in 2001 have caused a part of the jail to collapse. There were plans for a new science park to be built at the site after the remaining parts of the jail will be demolished, however the the city has rejected the plans and seeks to have the jail restored. Today it is the oldest surviving government building in Essex county.
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