State Prison

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State Prison


Images of the State Prison at Howard.

Beginning in the late 1870’s and the 1880’s the original wooden structures at the state farm were gradually replaced by stone ones, many of which remain today. The Adult Correctional Institute was completed in 1878 as the State Prison and Providence County Jail. A massive stone structure designed by the noted Providence architectural firm of Stone and Carpenter, the prison incorporated the most up to date penological philosophy and technology. The building contained two wings of three-tiered cellblocks flanking an octagonal central administration building. The 250 cells were arranged fronting either east or west for unobstructed sunlight and had corridors on two sides so that both sides or each cell were accessible to guards. Each floor of the prison was formed of a plate of cast iron ribbed cross wire on top and covered with a coast of cement. It was opened under the supervision of Warden General Nelson Viall who oversaw the prisoners as they walked in chains from the old prison, which stood near the site of the present State House in Providence. Commander of a Black regiment in the Civil War, General Viall personally landscaped the prison grounds as memorials to his troops.
By 1894 the Prison and Jail housed almost 150 more inmates than it was intended to; $300,000 was appropriated for construction of a new jail, but while bids were being solicited the appropriation was rescinded. Finally in 1924, when the facility held twice its capacity, a new wing designed by George F. Hall was added to the north. Built in the same style of random ashlar construction, it blends well with the original structure and the warden’s house immediately in front of the prison entrance. Today, standing high and isolated, the Adult Correctional Institution, with its massive central cupola and small towers along the walls of the prison yard, remains an imposing statement of the Victorian conception of prisons as fortresses.
Excerpt from: Historical Preservation Commission’s Statewide Historical Preservation Report P-C-1 on Cranston, 1980

See also:
Cranston: National Register of Historic Places, 1984

Report of the Committee of State Charities and Corrections Upon the State Institutions at Cranston, Made to the Senate, at its January Session, 1883

Report of the Joint Special Committee on the State Asylum for the Insane Made to the General Assembly at its January Session, A.D. 1868

Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission:  Statewide Preservation Reports, 1975 - 1982

Article Written by William F. Gleason, M.D....on a State School for Feeble-Minded Children, 1907

Report of State Commission on Public Welfare Institutions, 1943

Special Legislative Commission to Study the Howard Complex records, 1970-1972

External Related Resources:
Rhode Island Historical Society: Rhode Island State Institutions Records, 1839-1968 (bulk 1885-1944)


Rhode Island Board of Charities and Corrections Annual Report, 1901


Rhode Island State Archives




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Document Item Type Metadata

Original Format

annual reports


Rhode Island. Board of Charities and Corrections (1789-1917), "State Prison," in Virtual Exhibits, Item #831, (accessed August 24, 2019).