An unidentified man poses at the entrance to the guardhouse, circa 1907 at the Bucks County Prison. Photo taken from James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.

An unidentified man poses at the entrance to the guardhouse, circa 1907 at the Bucks County Prison. Photo taken from James A. Michener Art Museum Archives.

When you think of a museum, what comes to mind? A museum might be a place for you to retreat from the everyday and find solace in works of art. It might be a place that you go to socialize with friends, hear a lecture, or visit for entertainment. In contrast to these ideas, the Michener’s former site was the site of the Bucks County Prison. This brings to mind a very different environment that took place here decades ago.

It’s really ironic that I work today at the Michener. When I was in grade school, I had participated in summer camp across the street at the Mercer Museum. We were making salt boxes in the summer heat, and I remember being bitten by red ants as I sat against their large trees. As we were jumping up and down trying to avoid these persistent and annoying bugs, I looked across the street and noticed that the prisoners from the jail were getting into large trucks. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the memory stuck with me for years, in addition to the large welts on my legs from those darn ants.

Later, when the prison closed, tours were offered to view the prison and my family and I decided to visit. I remember walking through the cold, dark hallways thinking how run down it was. Paint was peeling off the walls in huge chunks. The air smelled stale and damp. I never imagined that I would be working here one day, and using an office that was a former room to one of Warden’s children. My office looks onto the main courtyard across from the building that was once the control center of the prison. Now a gallery, prisoners were brought here to be placed in a holding cell, until they were moved into a permanent location.

You can learn more about the history of the prison, nicknamed “The Pine Street Hotel”, and the reforms that took place under Major John D. Warden Case in the book, The Pine Street Hotel by Lois Anderson. It’s a fascinating book that explains the prison’s nickname, along with stories of how the prison evolved in its treatment of prisoners. You can also visit Two Dozen Questions about the Museum to learn more.

If you were a Bucks County resident during the time the prison was open, we would love to hear your stories!

-Adrienne N. Romano, Director of Education, New Media and Interpretive Initiatives