Research Resources: Old Essex County Jail

Those researching the jail can explore this database of primary sources stored on Google Drive. Please credit Columbia University or the respective author of each item you reuse. Unless otherwise specified, all exhibition and website texts are written by Myles Zhang and Zemin Zhang. Files are organized by category in the finding aid below:


The Old Essex County Jail in Film

Since being abandoned, the jail has appeared in many films. It has been visited by hundreds of urban explorers and ruins photographers. Here are just two of the jail’s appearances in film:


Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos, 1988 by Public Enemy


Turk 182 in 1985

This two minute clip is taken from the 1985 action comedy-drama Turk 182, which was partially filmed inside the old Essex County Jail in Newark. This scene is from the jail intake office built 1891. Compare the jail as it appeared in film vs. the same room today.


Contemporary Site Photos

About 250 photos document the jail’s present state of scenic decay. Link. All are taken by students at Columbia University GSAPP or Myles Zhang.


Historic Site Photos

View photos of the jail through time. Unfortunately, few photos survive of when this structure was in operation. Link. Photos are scanned from the collection of the New Jersey Information Center at the Newark Public Library, or from the 1991 landmarks designation report.


Elevations + Floor Plans

Contained here are measured plans of each cellblock and elevations of the most important façades. Link. All drawings are by students at Columbia GSAPP.


Construction Sequence

This series of photos and plans documents the jail’s gradual construction sequence over 100 years. Scholars can also download a measured, annotated, and animated computer model of the jail for use in VR applications, view animation of construction sequence, or computer model online. Animated construction sequence by Myles Zhang, with drawings by Columbia University GSAPP.


Data on Prison Life

Select data on inmate race, gender, and crime from 1882 and 1921 reveal the kinds of people incarcerated here. Charts and annotated diagrams reveal shifting patterns of crime in Newark. Link. This data is drawn from the following sources:


Historic News Clippings

From 1837 to the present-day, various newspapers have written about the jail, including The Star-LedgerNewark Evening NewsNewark Call, and New York TimesLink. All clippings are from the New York Times digital archives, or from the Newark Public Library microfiche. The jail was mentioned about 1,500 times in New York Times articles from the 1850s to the 1970s. Browse the Times Machine at this link.


Columbia Student Projects

View Columbia University’s eleven reuse proposals. Browse on the left sidebar or follow this link. All images and their accompanying statements belong to their respective student author.

The content presented on this website grew from a fall 2018 studio at Columbia University by architects Belmont Freeman and Bryony Roberts. (link to syllabus). The results of their research are also presented in a 45 page report (link to report).


National Register of Historic Places

This jail was designated a national landmark of architectural and historic significance in 1991. Read the report by Ulana Zakalak about this structure’s history and construction. Link. Or view the 1933 Historical American Building Survey collection of jail photos, from this link on the Library of Congress website.


Not found what you’re looking for? Browse or search all content here on Google Drive.