Maryland Penitentiary

A 'Pleasant and Healthy' Reception of Convicts

This building was completed for the reception of convicts in November, 1811; previous to which time, criminals were sentenced to hard labour upon the public roads. On the 18th of this month, however, fifty-one convicts were by their own option transferred from the roads, to the Penitentiary, and on the 24th of January following, the first person was received there, pursuant to sentence.

The penitentiary is situated on a gentle eminence, about three quarters of a mile north east of the centre of the city, and on the north side of Madison street. The situation is pleasant and healthy.

The yard wall, which is twenty feet high, encloses about four acres. There is a centre building and two wings. These are built of brick, four stories high, including the basement, which is of stone. The centre building fronts the south, and contains apartments for the keeper's family and guard. The west wing, which was formerly the prison, makes a right angle with the centre building, and extends north, 156 feet. It is thirty six feet wide and is built on the old plan with large night rooms. The female department is confined to six apartments, and a part of the hall, in the south end of the second story. The solitary cells, which are nine in number, are in the north end of the third story. The eastern wing of the Penitentiary is intended for the solitary confinement of the convicts at night, and contains 320 cells, facing each other, with light galleries running before each of the four stories, and open in the centre from the foundation to the arched ceiling. This enables the guard at the lower story to observe, at the same time, the door of every cell. The cells areall vaulted, with a narrow window to each, and are 10 feet long by 4 feet wide, closed by an iron grated door, permitting the guard to see the inside of each cell. The building is well and easily lighted and warmed.

From the north end of the west wing, to the external wall of the large yard is erected a wall 20 feet high, and the space south of this wall, is used as a yard for female convicts. In this yard, is a one story building in which the females labour.

In the yard for male prisoners, is a range of work shops, extending from east to west, at the distance of twenty-five feet from the north wall, two hundred and fifty feet long, and twenty-five wide, some two stories high, and others but one. South of this range and at right angles with it, are two other shops, each two stories high, for the use of the convicts.

Excerpted from John H.B. Latrobe, Jr., Picture of Baltimore (Baltimore, MD: Lucas Fielding, Jr., 1832), 86-87.




A detail from Poppleton's 1822 map of Baltimore | Source: This plan of the city of Baltimore | Creator: Poppleton, Thomas H. View File Details Page

Access Information:

The Maryland Penitentiary building is now called the Metropolitan Transition Center, still a part of the state's correctional system. See website for information about visiting.

Street Address:

954 Forrest St, Baltimore, MD 21202 [map]

Official Website:

Metropolitan Transition Center

Cite this Page:

John H.B. Latrobe, Jr., “Maryland Penitentiary,” Battle of Baltimore, accessed November 22, 2019,

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