Early in our city’s history, those convicted of the crimes of disturbing the peace, public drunkenness or vagrancy (begging, living on the streets) were assessed a fine; if unable to pay, they were sentenced, not to jail, but to the workhouse. Jail was preferable.
In 1868 a workhouse building was constructed at the foot of the bluff west of the City Hospital Grounds near what is now Jackson Street. It was outside of the city limits but built on property the city owned. In July of 1869, the Quincy Whig described a visit there, beginning with a leisurely thirty-minute drive down Fifth Street to the yard of the workhouse where the inmates were working on the rock pile. The two acre yard had some large trees, a spring near the bluff, a “bullpen” or shelter which was an open shed, and the small stone house about thirty by thirty-five feet. Inside that building were two cells, one 12 X 16 and the other 16 X 30 and a common area.
The overseer, Mr. Barney McCann “informed us that he was now turning out of the pen, 25 wagon loads of macadam per day.” Macadam consisted of small pieces of stone (larger than gravel) and was used to create a smooth road surface by mixing the macadam with asphalt or tar and compressing the layers. The prisoners created little rocks from big rocks by busting down chunks of limestone with sledge hammers.
Crime statistics from 1870 showed that a force of eighteen police officers arrested thirteen hundred and three persons that year. The offences were as follows: 351 drunkenness; 53 disorderly conduct; 55 for larceny; 63 for vagrancy; 169 for disturbing the peace; 91 for keeping a bawdy house; 222 for being inmates of bawdy houses. 266 people went to trial, and of those, 234 were sent to the workhouse. In 1871 the name of the facility was changed to the “House of Correction.”
The small building was crowded beyond capacity or reason, but the city did not have money to expand. Conditions continued to deteriorate. In May of 1877, the Quincy Whig reported: “As prisoners have been constantly escaping from the workhouse, His Honor Mayor White has made a move to stop it and keep the criminals at work. Tuesday a guard, with a loaded shot-gun was stationed at the workhouse. Soon after midnight ten men confined in a single cell knocked the plastering from the ceiling, tore down the chimney, and prepared to leave by going through the roof. As the first head appeared, however, it looked into the muzzle of the gun and at the command of the guard the whole crowd quietly returned to their quarters to avoid being shot. No one escaped that time, and the prisoners were put at labor this morning. Perhaps the guard will be continued at the rock pile.”
In 1883 the workhouse committee recommended, for the protection of prisoners, the construction of a new frame building at a cost of not more than $250, but no action was taken. By 1885 another damning story appeared concerning the deplorable conditions at the city facility. The story’s author, in comparing the jail facility to the workhouse said the workhouse was ten thousand times worse. “Why on earth these poor, ball-and-chained devils at the workhouse don’t commit some petty crime and go to our elegant county jail and be well fed and live like gentlemen is a mystery to us.” The workhouse was like a “nasty, vermin-infected stables” and the conditions inhumane – for both inmates and supervisor. Up to twenty-eight men and women were kept in two cells, with no ventilation or sanitation. The supervisor, who lived on site, was not furnished a phone. “There he is, out in the country, a gang of criminals upon his hands, no fair way of keeping them, and no way of communicating quickly with the city or with police headquarters.”
By 1892, a new workhouse had been constructed. It was of limestone, with walls two feet thick, and measured 116 x 40 feet. However, all that had been finished was the shell of the building – it had walls, floor and a roof and estimates were that it would take $8,000 to put it into serviceable condition for prisoners. Wm. A. McConnell had been superintendent for the previous nine years, and without a single male escapee. This was likely due to the fact that the prisoners were kept shackled to a ball-and-chain twenty-four hours a day. A report recommended building a ‘stockade’ around the building to allow inmates to be released from the ball-and-chain arrangement.
In 1895, Dr. Shawgo, chairman of the board of commissioners of the House of Correction, reported that it was less expensive to keep prisoners at the workhouse than at the county jail. Although the workhouse was not self-sustaining, the macadam produced there did provide some money for the city. He said that most prisoners arrived penniless and left the workhouse in the same condition, being turned out on the street to beg for a meal. He advocated paying inmates ten cents a day so they would have some money upon discharge. “In some places in the country this is done.” Quincy, Shawgo considered, was behind the times along this line. Peoria had already done away with the ball-and-chain, besting Quincy.
The workhouse records from 1909 show a troubling pattern of repetitious incarcerations. One woman managed only a few days of freedom at a time before being re-arrested for vagrancy or intoxication or disturbing the peace, yet sometimes she earned early release for good behavior. She was sentenced on September 22, 1909 to two days; on November 22 to 182 days; on June 20, 1910 to 24 days; on July 2 to 54 days. She stayed free until Jan, 1911, when she was sentenced to 104 days; in March she was sentenced to 182 days; her next sentence was in January,1912 for 104 days; in August for 24 days; January of 1913for 24 days; February for 24 days; May for 165 days; October for 163 days. The record book stops there.
“About Jails” The Quincy Whig March 8, 1810
Adams County History, Wilcox (Page 501)
“A Long Session” Quincy Daily Whig, November8, 1887
“Annual Reports” The Quincy Herald, April 8, 1875
“At the Workhouse” Quincy Daily Journal, May 2, 1892
“Council Procedures” Quincy Daily Herald, November 8, 1883
House of Correction Record Book, 1910-1913
“In the Workhouse” Quincy Whig, July 24, 1869
“Local Miscellany” The Quincy Daily Whig, July 15, 1880
“The Aristocracy of the County Jail” Quincy Daily Journal, October 10, 1885
The Daily Whig and Republican, June 18, 1868
“The Law Breakers” Quincy Daily Herald, December 31, 1870
“The Police Magistrate’s Fees” Quincy Herald, June 10, 1875
“The Workhouse” Quincy Whig Mary 313, 1877
“Would Pay Prisoners” Quincy Daily Journal November 14, 1895