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Bucks County Prison (currently Michener Art Museum) - Doylestown, PA

The Bucks County Prison was built in 1884. Most of the prison was torn down in 1986 except for the warden’s residence and three prison walls.

According to legend, the site was once a Native American habitat, later owned by two freed slaves of Supreme Court Justice Jeremiah Langhorne who willed them the property in 1842. County government eventually acquired it and hired a Quaker architect to design a jail with 40 tiny windowless cells with low doors that forced inmates to bow upon entering, an act of purposeful Quaker humility. The cells deprived prisoners of light intended to bring them closer to God. Built into the perimeter wall was a two-story home and guard tower for the sheriff. A weapons window opened to the outside. “You’d have to turn in your gun and rifle by passing it through the window before entering the jail,” said Quinn.

Two executions occurred in the prison during its century of operation. In 1894 Newtown handyman Wallace Burt hung for the axe murders of an elderly Richboro farm couple as they slept. James Linzi perished in 1914 for killing his pregnant wife.

In 1941 Bucks hired its first full-time warden. Warren Handy was an autocrat who believed in breaking inmates to create good citizens. That all changed with the hiring in 1962 of John D. Case, 42. The retired Marine major was 6-foot 4-inches tall, 250 pounds, blond hair and blue eyes with a ramrod posture commanding attention.

Case, his wife and seven children moved into the prison house. He immediately set out to revolutionize conditions in the jail. Officers were better trained with a focus of improving the mental health of inmates. Better cuisine and meals served in a cafeteria rather than individual cells became a hallmark. Visits by spouses, children, relatives and friends were encouraged on weekends. A jail playground for the kids and prisoners allowed to wear their own clothes and hair styles were other changes.

One ex-con reflected on life in the reformed jail. “This was definitely different. Everything, inmates included. Here they joked and laughed and talked with each other — white and Black — not like in Jersey where it was very quiet, segregated into groups of Blacks, Muslims, whites, a lot of tension all the time. But not here.”

Case invited citizens to get involved. Business leaders, educators, various professionals and homemakers soon offered inside the jail training and encouragement to prisoners. With many other reforms in place, the warden nicknamed the jail the Pine Street Hotel.

In the 1970s, the jail inevitably became overcrowded — 4-6 prisoners in every cell. The federal government determined it was “inhumane” and ordered improvements. That was accomplished in 1985, eight years after Arthur Wallenstein replaced Case. A new prison in Doylestown Township brought to a close the remarkable history of the Pine Street Hotel and its transformation into a cradle of fine arts.

Located at: 138 S Pine Street, Doylestown, PA 18901

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