Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fred W. Jones's Vision for Hudson

Of the 19th-century characters who shaped the Hudson of today--for better or for worse--Fred W. Jones is one of the most intriguing, if only because he died in bankruptcy and his remains were evicted when his grand mausoleum in the Hudson City Cemetery was foreclosed on. It was Fred W. Jones, owner of the New York Coral and Shell Marble Company, who bullied the City of Hudson into allowing him to build a railroad through South Bay, bisecting it from west to east, to carry stone from his quarries on Becraft Mountain to the waterfront. Known as "Jones's mountain railroad," it was begun in May 1874 but not completed until March 1889, and it proved to be the death knell for South Bay. The path of Jones's railroad is now the controversial "causeway."

Gossips recently discovered another scheme promoted by Fred W. Jones for his own advantage, which could have had a long-term and not particularly desirable impact on Hudson. It seems that in 1889, there was talk of building a new state prison to replace the State Prison at Sing Sing, which had opened in 1826 and by 1889 was considered "ancient and dilapidated."

State Prison at Sing Sing in 1855

The civic leaders of Columbia County and the City of Hudson, along with Fred W. Jones on whose land the new prison would be located, were eager to have the institution built in Greenport, just beyond the border with Hudson. Penal institutions seemed to be desirable undertakings at the time. The Women's House of Refuge had opened in Hudson only two years earlier, in 1887.

The following article, reporting on the progress of luring the new state prison to "greater Hudson," appeared in the Hudson Daily Evening Register for December 27, 1889.

Final Hearing by the Commission Yesterday 
Afternoon--Hudson and Columbia County 
Well Represented and Cordially Received--
Everybody Interested Favorably Impressed 
with the Location of Jonesburg.
Yesterday afternoon the Commission appointed to locate a new State Prison to take the place of the ancient and dilapidated institution at Sing Sing, gave a final hearing to all applicants at the rooms of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee in the Capitol. The City of Hudson was represented through the Board of Trade by Mayor Gregg, Wm. H. Traver and M. Parker Williams; and the County of Columbia through the Board of Supervisors, by Fred W. Jones, of Greenport, President of Jonesburg, and proprietor of the lands offered to the State for the prison site. The Committee was cordially received and was granted the precedence of a hearing, although a dozen other localities were ably represented and awaiting a hearing.
Mr. Jones submitted, through Mayor Gregg, a written statement to the effect that of the lands which a majority of the commission had visited and inspected, the State could purchase at a very low figure (stipulating the sum) all the land they require for the purpose of a Prison, from one hundred to one thousand acres, including an inexhaustible stone quarry, which could furnish employment for any number of prisoners for all time; farming and grazing lands and wood lots.
It was further shown by the Committee that there was on the lands proposed to be sold sufficient material that could be used in the construction of Prison buildings to more than reimburse the State for the money asked for the entire purchase. This material consists of stone in the quarries already opened and in operation; in the best quality of clay of which to make brick; of lime stone of which to make lime; of wood in abundance to burn the brick and the lime; of sand and gravel to construct roadways and for other purposes; broad acres under high cultivation which would raise all the grain, vegetables, and other products required for Prison consumption; with a railroad already constructed and in operation, by which passengers, prisoners and supplies can be conveyed direct from the Hudson River, Boston & Albany, and Harlem Railroads without change of cars. If a more eligible location for a mammoth Prison, such as the State of New York proposes to erect, can be discovered within the limits of the State, we have yet to learn where it is, and we don't believe the Commission, with all its alertness and vigorous prosecution of its arduous duties, has discovered it.
The Prison at Sing Sing was erected over seventy years ago, when that locality was a "howling wilderness." The buildings are now dilapidated and a prosperous city has grown up around it. That city no longer wants the Prison, and the institution is out of place there.
It is understood that the State proposes to erect a model Prison, with the most modern improvements that have been introduced in this country or Europe in penal institutions. It is further understood that such an institution will cost not less than two million dollars. The requisites necessary are ample lands, convenient location, work for convicts that will not intrude on established industries, and isolation from a populous community. Jonesburg, two miles from Hudson, meets all these requirements, and the title of "Jonesburg Prison" will not injure the fair fame of Hudson which it has held for more than a century.
Gossips does not know what happened with the plan to replace Sing Sing. At some point along the line, it must have been abandoned. The penal institution once known simply as Sing Sing is now the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, and Jonesburg Prison was never built. More than ninety years would pass before Hudson got its own prison, the Hudson Correctional Facility, established in 1974 utilizing the buildings originally constructed to be the Women's House of Refuge.


  1. Ironic that the Town of Sing Sing changed its name to Ossining to avoid association with the prison, but the prison which once was Sing Sing is now called Ossining.

  2. Sing Sing is such a notorious name we'd even heard of it in Ireland when I was growing up. If we were naughty, Father would say, 'be careful or you'll end up in Sing Sing. I never knew where it was until one day I took a train trip up the Hudson River and a friend pointed it out. Imagine if it had been in Hudson. Father would have been almost right.

  3. A reader informs me that, although the name of Sing Sing Prison was changed to Ossining Correctional Facility in 1970, it was changed again to Sing Sing Correctional Facility in 1985.