About Us


Concern over crime, petty thievery, prostitution, public drunkenness and juvenile delinquency is not a present day phenomenon. Lawlessness and social misconduct reached such proportions here in the 19th century that the Legislature in 1855 authorized Milwaukee County to build a   penal institution to be called “The House of Refuge”. After it was completed on the south side 100 years ago, it was officially called the House of Correction. Inmates were housed in the pioneer penal institution for 51 years before the county established a new modern prison farm complex in 1917 in the old Town of Granville. The legislative act provided that the prison be used for the safekeeping, reformation and employment of persons convicted of felonies, misdemeanors and ordinance violations.
Girls and Boys Too
The act also provided that it furnish care, instructions and apprenticeships to boys under 18 and girls under 16 who otherwise would be idle in the County Jail. It was not until September, 1858, that the County Board voted 12 to 2 to comply with the 1855 law by appointing three of its supervisors, Nathan Howes, J.A. Phelps and Patrick Walsh, to obtain plans for the House of Refuge. The three soon reported that construction of the prison should be undertaken quickly because the prospects of “a coming hard winter make it probable that petty crimes will increase” and because the County Jail would not provide adequate facilities for the expected stream of lawbreakers. Despite this admonition, however, its construction was delayed until 1865, after a special committee headed by Charles J. Kern visited prisons in Rochester, N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y. and Chicago, and drafted recommendations to be incorporated in the construction plans of A.L. Schmidtner, widely known Milwaukee architect of public buildings. The House of Refuge was built on the east side of W. Windlake Avenue, near W. Becher Street. The main building was a two story brick structure. It contained offices, library, laundry, kitchen and prisoners’ quarters.
Chair Factory
A chair factory connected with the prison was a two story wooden structure, with engine room and three departments and containing machinery for the different processes in the manufacture of chairs. The prison, situated on high ground, had 160 cells, each being 7½ feet high, 9 feet long and 5½ feet wide. The first prisoner was received February 12, 1866, and during that first year 228 prisoners were cared for. Edward McGarry served as the prison’s first superintendent, and he officially called the institution the House of Correction. He was succeeded by Daniel Kennedy, who directed the facilities until June, 1878.
One of the Best
Penologists hailed the institution as one of the be3st in the country. The buildings were heated with steam, and inmates were supplied with pure water from Lake Michigan through the Milwaukee waterworks, although originally wells had been dug on the extensive grounds. Kennedy reported to the County Board in 1872 that boarding and clothing a prisoner cost 28 cents a day and the employment of the men in the chair factory was rapidly becoming a source of revenue to the county. “As a means of discipline and for the promotion of their physical and mental welfare, no better employment could be found,” said Kennedy.
Report on Prison
The Wisconsin Board of Charities and Reform viewed the institution in 1781 and reported: “The men in the chair factory, generally, had a look of comfort and contentment and seemed to be doing their work with a will. Except that there was no conversation, we would hardly have supposed we were anywhere else than in a well regulated manufacturing establishment in some New England Village. “We regard this institution as a credit to the people of Milwaukee County, and it shows that more than ordinary attention has been paid to the wants and care of the criminals in the midst, and the fact that so good an institution is found at the commencement of our investigations is a source of sincere gratification.”
Wooden Fence
Kennedy told the County Board in 1872 that he had spent $808.85 for a 16-foot high wooden fence around the prison yard. During its first six years of operation 2,230 inmates – 1,922 male, 308 female – were confined in the House of Correction from seven days to three years. Three hundred thirty-nine were 20 years old or younger, and a dozen were over 70. Most common offenses for which inmates were committed were: Drunkenness, 805; vagrancy, 390; larceny, 384; drunkenness and disorderly conduct, 249; assault and battery, 189; burglary, 22; and threatening to kill, 9. Nine persons were committed for keeping houses of ill fame, 8 for being inmates of houses of ill fame, and 5 for being inmates of disorderly houses. One inmate served a term for poisoning a horse, another for torturing a horse.
Prisoner’s Occupations
Among the inmates confined in the prison’s first six years were 507 laborers, 236 sailors, 116 schoolboys, 113 farmers, 74 shoemakers, 61 carpenters, 58 soldiers, 54 painters, 54 printers, 38 blacksmiths, 32 tailors, 34 butchers, 27 machinists, 23 stonecutters, 15 peddlers, 14 teachers, 11 rag pickers, 9 cigar makers, 6 rope makers, 5 physicians, 4 wagon makers, 3 newsboys and 2 lawyers. The number of inmates increased steadily each year.  For example, in 1880 the institution received 1,022 – 950 male, 72 female. In 1916, the last full year of its existence on the South Side, 2,976 inmates – 2,769 male, 207 female – were received. The institution, however, cared for 3,247 inmates that year because 259 males and 12 females were confined under previously imposed sentence.
Juvenile Court
There was little distinction between the handling of child and adult offenders until the Legislature adopted a law in 1901 that created a Juvenile Court to hear cases involving delinquent and neglected children under 16. It also directed the county to establish separate detention facilities for juveniles. To comply with the new law, the county confined wayward and neglected children at the Home for the Friendless at 618 N. Van Buren Street until it erected a square, three story Juvenile Detention Home at 1104 W. Galena St. in 1911. During those years, the Juvenile Court was held in the police courtroom at City Hall. One of the judges who presided over the Juvenile Court in its infancy was District Judge N. B. Neelen, father of Circuit Judge Harvey L. Neelen.
Extensive Repairs
The late William Henry Momsen, who had served as superintendent-inspector of the House of Correction for 34 years, supervised many extensive repairs to the South Side prison complex and urged the county to acquire a new prison site. Momsen, who became head of the institution in 1903, said in one of his annual reports: “It is well known that the old institution is antiquate, no longer suited to the needs of a rapidly growing community, and not in keeping with the enlightened spirit of progress pervading all American life, and also pervading penal institutions . . .” Momsen contracted for new toilet room facilities for male and female inmates “in place of the antiquated bucket system.”
New Icehouse
He also acquired a new icehouse to prevent spoilage of meat, a new factory engine, new boilers, new factory machinery to improve the production of chairs and benches and new hospital quarters for sick inmates. Momsen also directed construction and painting of 300 feet of additional fence around the prison yard. Bill Momsen, baldheaded and round, was most pleased when he filed his annual report to the County Board for the year ending December 31, 1917, for he was then in charge of the new House of Correction on Hopkins Road (now N. Hopkins St.) in the old Town of Granville.
420 Acres
The new facility, adjoining the northern limits of the old city of North Milwaukee, comprised 420 acres with its farm. It included a chair factory, modern and complete administration building, mess hall with kitchen, bakery, laundry, cell houses and dormitories, hospital, school quarters, superintendent’s swelling, farm buildings and some 70 Holstein cattle, besides hogs and poultry. B. Ogden Chisolm, a member of the Executive Committee of the New York Prison Association, was so impressed with the reinforced concrete buildings with red tile roofs that he called the $1 million complex, “the most modern of prisons, one of which Wisconsin can be justly proud.”
4,000 Visitors
More than 4,000 persons visited the new institution the week of November 11, 1917, prompting Momsen to propose vainly that the county allow general visitors to come there on certain days and charge them 25 cent admission, with the proceeds assigned to a prison library fund. Five attempts were made to have Momsen ousted from his position, but he was given a clean bill of health each time – the last in 1934. Momsen never liked the name House of Correction or the prisoners’ name for it, “Momsen’s Hotel,” but both persisted during his long tenure at the original and second site. He preferred that the Hopkins Rd. complex be called Granville Farms, but the County Board did not adopt that name.
Narrow Escape
An experience at the South Side prison that Momsen often recalled involved the narrow escape he had when an insane inmate broke away from guards and sneaked into Momsen’s office. Here was Momsen’s account of the episode. “I happened to look around, and there he (the inmate) was ready to crack me over the head. ‘What do you want?’ I asked him. The prisoner said: ‘The keys to get out.’ Then I said pointing to a window: ‘Look, it’s raining.’ When the prisoner went over to the window, the guards rushed in and grabbed him.” Momsen, who retired in 1938, died in 1939 at 61. After his death, hundreds of inmates who knew Momsen paid tribute to him as “a square shooter.” Upward of 150,000 prisoners came under Momsen’s jurisdiction during his 34 years as workhouse superintendent.
Superintendent Until 1962
Joseph B. Drewniak, a retired Milwaukee deputy police inspector, served as House of Correction superintendent for 25 years until 1962. In 1940, the state ended operation of the chair factory. And the Army took possession of the Hopkins Rd. complex in 1945. As a result, the third House of Correction was completed on the south end of the county at 8885 S. 68th St., in what is now Franklin. The newest complex with a 625 acre farm, cost about $2,250,000. South Side old timers still have memories of the Windlake Ave. institution. It was razed during World War I, and the site was used for the construction of Milwaukee’s first high school stadium – South Stadium.
Sandlot Teams
Frank Szwedowski, 73, of 2242 S. 12th St., a pharmacist, said that sandlot teams played baseball on the diamond just south of the original House of Correction. If a ball was hit over the prison wall, he said, the players retrieved it from an inmate by giving him a package of chewing tobacco through a prison guard. Clemens F. Michalski, 73, of 3300 W. Oklahoma Ave., retired county clerk and former sheriff, said that Al Simmons (then known as Aloysius Szymanski) had achieved his skill as an outfielder and hitter while playing on the field with the Right Laundry sandlot team. “Simmons and other ballplayers often swapped cigars for plugs of chewing tobacco with prison inmates at small holes dug underneath the high prison fence,” said Michalski. “There were no bubblegum chewing ballplayers during the World War I era . . .” Simmons who died in 1957, became a major league star with the old Philadelphia Athletics in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The Kinnickinnic field, which adjoins Pulaski High School, was renamed Al Simmons Field by the County Park Commission in 1957.
Above reprinted from the Milwaukee Journal, 1975, by Edward S. Kerstein of the Journal Staff
Eli Surges
Superintendent 1962-1964
Mr. Surges began his employment for Milwaukee County in 1947 as a probation agent. In 1951, he was appointed Assistant Superintendent of the House of Correction. He was subsequently appointed Superintendent in 1962. Mr. Surges held that position until his untimely death in February 1964 at the age of 49. Mr. Surges had a deep concern for the House of Correction and its residents. In the scant two years he held that position Surges took steps to correct unsatisfactory conditions and instituted new programs. The progress he made was more than remarkable because throughout this period, Surges was suffering from Leukemia. In 1988, Milwaukee County authorized the construction of a multi-purpose building for resident programs and recreational use. The building was dedicated on March 5, 1988 and named the Eli g. Surges Activity Center in honor of his dedication.
Lawrence A. Jozwiak
Superintendent 1964-1976
 Mr. Jozwiak began his employment with Milwaukee County in 1956 as a Welfare Worker. He was appointed Assistant Superintendent of the House of Correction in 1962 and subsequently was appointed Superintendent in 1964. In 1965, in a letter to the County Board, Mr. Jozwiak wrote: “The maximum capacity of the House of Correction is 530. Ideally, only 440 inmates should be quartered. The highest daily count was 556 on February 26, 1965.” He then anticipated the need for 620 beds and requested that the County budget funds to allow the House of Correction to operate the abandoned Nike Site located on Ryan Road. Unfortunately the Nike Site, now known as the training & Placement Center, was not opened until 1982. Most of the renovation was completed by House of Correction inmates and staff. Many of the buildings were in disrepair from many years of neglect.
Carmen Family Cemetery
The Carmen Family Cemetery on the House of Correction grounds was declared a Milwaukee County Landmark in 1982. It is the oldest marked cemetery in Milwaukee County dating back to 1839. It apparently began as a family burial ground and takes its name from the family of Edmund Carmen and his wife Ann Newington who settle in Franklin in 1837 after their arrival from England. Carmen, a farmer, purchased 160 acres from the U.S. Government on March 13, 1839, which includes the cemetery location. His daughter, Eliza Carmen, died on February 19, 1839 and is the earliest marked burial on the cemetery.
Franklin M. Lotter
Superintendent 1976-1990
Mr. Lotter began his employment with Milwaukee County in 1961 as a Welfare worker. He was appointed a Correctional Guidance Officer in 9164, Assistant Superintendent in 1965, and Superintendent in 1976. Mr. Lotter retired in 1990 after approximately 29 years of service. He had an enormous impact upon the training and professional development of the House of Correction staff. In 1976, he established the House of Correction Correction Officer Training Program. Over the years the program was recognized as one of the finest in the United States. While Superintendent, he not only championed the importance of line officers but worked unceasingly to promote humane treatment for House of Correction residents; treatment which recognized and respected their dignity. Under his direction, the Training & Placement Center, Community Correctional Center, Eli Surges Activity Center and the Franklin M. Lotter Building were added to the House of Correction to alleviate overcrowding and to increase resident programs. His entire career reflected an unblemished commitment to support a safe, secure and humane environment for residents and staff.
Michael Carr – Superintendent 1990-1992
Richard Cox – Superintendent 1992-2001
Ronald Malone – Superintendent 2001-2008
Michael Hafemann – Superintendent 2013-Present
Milwaukee County House of Correction
The County Board of Supervisors and a Citizens Committee decided to purchase 652 acres of farmland in the town of Franklin to be used as a site for the new institution. The first units of the farm buildings were started in 1946 and were completed in 1950. Construction of the dormitory and administrative building was begun in 1951 and was completed in May of 1953. The main facility was designed to hold 450 prisoners. The main facility has held 630 inmates in recent days. In 1989 the House of Correction began using the old St. Anthony’s hospital building to house its ever-growing number of prisoners sentenced to Huber/work release. Today the Community Correctional Center houses 420 prisoners and the House of Correction monitors approximately 300 prisoners on the electronic surveillance program. In 1990, the House of Correction opened the Franklin lotter building which has a design capacity of 250. Today the FML building houses 300. House of Correction facilities have averaged 1,800 prisoners in recent years.

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