Eastern State Penitentiary's Kitchen and Bakery

An inmate bakes bread under the watchful eye of a guard. This scene predates the arrival of the new ovens in 1910.
The two-story structure above is the Grist Mill that, after modifications, became the current Kitchen.
Aerial View Bakery, Kitchen and Storehouse complex c.2005
2009, $25,000
Status: Complete


Prevention of the irrevocable loss of original building material by protecting vulnerable roofs from further damage.

Early Food Preparation

All food preparation in the 1830s and 1840s was done in the basement of the Administration Building, in rooms that today serve as the historic site's ticket office. . The prison underkeeper's wife procured food from the city, at that point more than a mile away. Although all inmates were supposed to be serving time in strict "separation," in keeping with Eastern State's radical attempts to inspire penitence, we know that some inmates sawed wood for cooking fuel and helped prepare meals. Operational practicalities overrode the strict enforcement of inmate isolation. The food was plain and sparing in fruits and vegetables. Inmates ate alone and each received one pound of bread daily. Guards used three wagons (named Franklin, Washington, and Lafayette) to deliver meals to the cellblocks and handed the food containers to inmates through the small wooden feeding doors that opened to the cellblock's central corridor.

The Kitchen and Bakery Complex Takes Shape

As the system of separate confinement eroded and eventually fell from use, Eastern State had to modify its architecture to house modern kitchens and dining halls. A wedge of land, between Cellblocks 4 and 5 -- once the location for a gristmill where the prison ground its own flour - eventually became the site of an interconnected complex of buildings that include the Kitchen, the Bakery, and the Storehouse. The building complex underwent continual changes that added storage, more workspace, and modern equipment. These changes reflected the pressures exerted by an expanding prison population. One of the first improvements, completed by 1863, was the replacement of the Kitchen with a new fireproof stone structure. Eastern State expanded the complex in 1903 by adding a major building, the Storehouse, to the north end of the Kitchen. Refrigeration arrived in 1903 allowing Eastern State to hold a ten-day supply of meat. Although Eastern State abandoned the system of separate confinement in 1913, it took 11 years until it converted exercise yards into dining halls and allowed prisoners to eat together. The 1924 modifications to the Cellblock 4 and 5 exercise yards included cafeteria-style stations for picking up food and massive dining rooms that could accommodate eight hundred inmates at a time.

Inmate Experiences in the Kitchen

A Kitchen job was very desirable to many inmates, who liked the greater freedom the position allowed. One former inmate, who served time in the 1930s - 1950s, recalls going down to the Kitchen at night to get a cup of coffee or a piece of pie. At the same time, prison officials liked assigning inmates with real cooking experience to work there since it led to higher quality food and smoother operations. Former staff members have told us about the wedding and birthday cakes that inmates made for them. The Kitchen was also the setting for a 1966 escape attempt by two inmates. They hid in the vats used to collect fat and bones for a rendering company but had the misfortune to emerge from the vats in full sight of a nearby police car. Since the penitentiary did not have hot water for dishwashing in the Kitchen, at least through the 1930s, it issued each inmate his own set of metal utensils that he cleaned back in his cell. These utensils occasionally became weapons in disputes between inmates.

Historical Resources at Risk

Today, the terrible condition of the roofs over the Kitchen and Bakery prevent Eastern State from sharing this rich and lively history with visitors. The deteriorated asphalt roofs no longer provide adequate protection against the elements. This leaves the exposed timber trusses and plaster ceilings vulnerable and in danger of collapse!

Project Update

We have prevented the irrevocable loss of original building material by protecting these roofs from further damage. First, we stabilized the roofs over half the Kitchen and the entire adjoining Storehouse in 2005 by covering them with heavy duty Tuff-Wrap. Second, we finished the project in 2009 by covering the remaining Kitchen roof and the attached Bakery with Tuff-Wrap. This heavy duty plastic will protect these buildings for several years while we assemble the funds for the longer term roofs. View the complete list of funders.

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