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.
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