Sugar refineries, called sugar houses, were built in lower Manhattan during the mid to late 1700s to alleviate the need to import refined sugar from Europe. The sugar houses, with their small windows and low ceilings, were considered ideal by the British as prisons, and as on the prison ships in Wallabout Bay, conditions were notoriously inhumane, and may patriots died in captivity.
This sugar house stood at what is now Duane and Rose Streets; its window was later incorporated in the Rhinelander Building, itself torn down in 1968 to make way for One Police Plaza. The window was rescued and now now stands in the pedestrian plaza behind the Municipal Building.
As many as 800 Americans were crammed in a typical sugar house, suffering a tremendous amount of abuse and left with the choice of either starving or freezing to death. Conditions were so bad that many inmates carved messages and their names on the beams and walls. For years afterward these ‘last wills’ remained.