There’s a growing number of photographers who are fascinated by abandoned and forgotten properties, each in varying stages of decay. Beauty can be found in the vegetation creeping through broken windows, debris scattered around an empty room, or even in a piece of rusty metal. One such property is located in York County, Pennsylvania, and is the former York County Prison, located at 319 Chestnut Street in the city of York.
Built between 1906 and 1907, this 30,000 square foot prison was the creation of architect B.F. Willis. The castle-like structure replaced the crowded York County Jail that was built on the site in 1854 by Edward Haviland, son of noted Philadelphia architect John Haviland. John was known for his design of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.
Operations at the Chestnut Street location ceased in 1979, and the aging prison was replaced by the current facility in Springettsbury Township. John and Joyce Gearhart bought the property in 1981, and over the years, various ideas have emerged on what could be done with the old prison. Unable to make their ideas materialize, the property was listed for sale in 2007 by their realtor son, Eric J. Gearhart. The property has been listed for $3.9 million.
One person extremely interested in visually documenting the property is Philadelphia-based photographer Scott Frederick, best known for his dynamic land and cityscapes with a focus on urban exploration. Scott first learned about the old York prison from an iPhone app called Abandoned, which based on it’s website, is used “to locate and explore modern day ruins”. He uses the app to research abandoned places in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas. Additional research on Google also led Scott to the Opacity.com website, which has photographs of the interior of the building.
Drawn to these abandoned places like a moth to a flame, Scott feels there is something captivating about photographing these structures. He likes to bring the viewer to these locations by using the images he captures, which allow them to feel what it was like when the building was in operation.
Click images for larger views
Scott and two friends visited the prison, hoping to take some photographs of its exterior. While walking around the property, they felt they may be approached by law enforcement, as a municipal vehicle slowly passed by to see what the small group was doing. Deciding they overstayed their welcome, they decided to leave just as a police cruiser circled around. From that time, Scott has patiently worked to acquire permission to enter the facility.
Scott should be commended for showing restraint in entering the facility without permission from the owners. It takes little effort while searching online to find countless images taken by others who have entered the building, though it is not clear if the they were given permission to do so.
Images of the former York County Prison are shown below:
Courtesy of: © www.opacity.us
The owners of the old prison have a wonderful opportunity to bring some much needed exposure to their property, which could potentially aid in its sale. Photographers of all experience levels could be granted permission to enter for the sole purpose of capturing images of this aging landmark. Of course, liability waivers would need to be signed, and fees could potentially be charged for this access. As the photographs that were taken make their way through the social networking highway, they will be shared and retweeted, thus increasing their exposure. This added exposure could increase the chance that a potential buyer may see them and become interested in the property.
In speaking to people about this property, very few know much about it, but many are interested in learning more. It would be great if an official website was designed about the property, with a statement about access opportunities, if available. The owners of the Hanover Theater have created such a similar website, as an aid in selling their historic Hanover, Pennsylvania property.
Over the years, there have been photographers who were granted permission to enter the old York County Prison property, but the current visitation status is unknown. It’s unfortunate that some have chose to enter illegally, which casts a shadow over others who wish to do so by using the proper channels.
If given the opportunity, would you visit this aging landmark? If you had unlimited funding, what would you do with it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
York County PA’s Old Chestnut Street Jail: “York Has A Treasure In It”
- I do not encourage or condone anyone to enter the former York County Prison, or any other abandoned properties, without first receiving permission from the owners.
- Scott Frederick can be found at the following social networking sites: Scott Frederick Photo Blog, Google+, Facebook, Twitter.
- I have been told that a paranormal investigation was performed at the site a few years ago.