The Corner of Auburn Prison, Truxton Hosley, 1968

Long-Term Exhibit

Both Sides of the Wall: Auburn and Its Prison

In 1816 the first cornerstone of a new prison was laid in Auburn, NY. Today, this prison is the oldest maximum security prison in New York State. Known now as the Auburn Correctional Facility, this institution created the system of incarceration known as the “Auburn System”, which became widely popular and emulated. Notable elements of this system included enforced silence while working or moving around the prison, striped uniforms, and single person cells. This system would remove an incarcerated persons individuality and promote isolation which often led to great emotional distress. Eventually, this system fell out of favor and the solitary ways of Auburn ended which made it possible for new carceral methods to emerge. 
The Cayuga Museum has had an exhibit on display about the Auburn Correctional Facility since 2003. This exhibit was updated in 2023 to reflect changes in language surrounding incarceration, to include artwork created within and in response to the prison, and to highlight voices of individuals who have lived and worked inside. This work is ongoing as we endeavor to learn more about the prisons long history and we welcome visitors to offer feedback about their experience to further strengthen our exhibit.

Exhibit Gallery

Abbreviated Timeline of Auburn Correctional Facility


Cornerstone of Auburn Prison is laid;
Second prison in the state of New York


Imprisoned laborers complete construction of the prison and workshops


Contract labor system authorized by the State;
Prison labor is leased to outside contractors

c. 1825

The Auburn System is a recognized model for prison management;
Becomes widely duplicated


First law governing prison education is passed;
Two part-time teachers are hired


On August 6 the world’s first death by electrocution is carried out at Auburn Prison


Contract labor system is replaced with state use system;
System still in use today

c. 1900

The Auburn System is phased out


License plate shop opens in Auburn Prison


Uprisings among incarcerated individuals in July and December
due to overcrowding and poor conditions


Use of electric chair discontinued in New York


Auburn Prison is renamed Auburn Correctional Facility; Changing penal philosophy in New York State


200th Anniversary of Auburn Correctional Facility


Auburn continues to operate as a maximum security state prison

In this clip, prison reformer and warden of Sing Sing, Thomas Mott Osborne, discusses his new system of prisoner focused self-governance. Filmed by workers in the Case Research Laboratory c. 1925, debuted at Auburn Exposition of Progress in Auburn, NY. To view the full recording, please contact us.

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