Robert Mills Plans

When Burlington County's seat moved from Burlington to Mount Holly in 1795, the County Jail remained behind. By 1807, a decade of moving prisoners by horse and wagon between jail and court house convinced the Freeholders to build a new jail in Mount Holly. While the county stretched from the Delaware to the Atlantic, its population , mostly of British descent, had not reached 25,000, and the county was not a hot bed of serious crime. A jail copied from the old one in Burlington would have been adequate-and inexpensive. However, the Freeholder committee named to "prepare or have prepared" a plan did something unprecedented for a local government - they hired an architect, a young South Carolinian named Robert Mills. In May, 1808 Mills presented the committee with a 4 page treatise on penology and plans for a very large, well though out jail. The committee insisted on a much smaller version. On March 7, 1809 the board voted to begin construction agreeing to pay Mills $150 of the $300 he had billed the county for his efforts. But even now the construction committee made significant changes in the Mills design and concept- changes which brought the construction costs to only a still Pentagon worthy 240% of the original $10,000 estimate. When you visit, compare Mills drafts and written specifications to the jail as built. A pretty shabby way to treat our first, and one of our greatest, architects.

Click here to view "Design for a Prison", the treatise that was submited by Robert Mills to the Burlington County Freeholders in 1808.

This collection contains materials owned by our partner the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. For more information please visit: http://www.philaathenaeum.org

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Click here for the plans from the Historic American Buildings Survey,
commisioned in 1936 by Franklin Roosevelt as part of the WPA.