Constructed in 1818 as Auburn Prison, it was the second state prison in New York (after New York City's Newgate, 1797-1828), the site of the first execution by electric chair in 1890, and the namesake of the "Auburn System," a correctional system in which prisoners were housed in solitary confinement in large rectangular buildings, and performed penal labor under silence that was enforced at all times. The prison was renamed the Auburn Correctional Facility in 1970. The prison is among the oldest functional prisons in the United States.
The current front of Auburn Prison. Note the two guard towers on either side and Copper John on top
The prison charged a fee for tourists in order to raise funds for the prison. Eventually, to discourage most visitors, the fee was increased.
Besides the history of the place, it is best known locally for the statue of a colonial soldier atop the apex. For disputed reasons, this figure is called "Copper John." 
In contrast with the purely reformatory type prison instituted in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia System introduced by the Quakers, the "Auburn System" modified the schedule of prayer, contemplation, and humane conditions with hard labor.
Prisoners were compelled to work during the day, and the profit of their labor helped to support the prison. Prisoners were segregated by offense; additionally they were issued clothing that identified their crime. The traditional American prison uniform, consisting of horizontal black and white stripes, originated at the Auburn prison. The prisoners had their heads closely cropped and walked in lockstep, keeping step with their heads bowed. Each prisoner placed a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him to maintain a rigid separation.
There was a communal dining room so that the prisoners could gather together for meals, but a code of silence was enforced harshly at all times by the guards. Thus the inmates worked and ate together, but in complete silence. At night the prisoners were kept in individual cells (even though the original plan called for double cells).
For several decades, this system was adopted by other jurisdictions. This system was also called the "Congregate System." The Sing Sing Correctional Facility, also in New York, was built using this system under the supervision of the former warden of the Auburn prison, Elam Lynds.
To this day, Auburn Correctional Facility is responsible for the manufacturing of New York State's license plates.
Copper John is a statue of an American Revolutionary Warsoldier that stands atop the Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, New York. It has entered the local lexicon as a reference to the prison and aspects of it, for example, getting sent to Auburn Prison is "going to work for Copper John."
"John" was originally a wooden statue that was erected atop the administration office of the prison in 1821. In 1848, the statue had weathered so much that it was taken down and a new statue was made out of copper by the prisoners in the prison foundry. In 2004, the New York state government became aware that the statue was fashioned to be anatomically correct and ordered the statue to be "incorrected". Some correctional officers made an impromptu protest by passing out T-shirts showing the iconic statue and reading "Save Copper John's Johnson"; but the statue was nonetheless removed, his penis was filed off, and remounted in August.
^ abcd"Auburn Prison Beginnings". Retrieved 2014-09-01. William Brittin, who died in 1821, master carpenter and builder of the prison who became its first agent and warden ... Elam Lynds, a lash wielding principal keeper who delighted in enforcing discipline. He was sadistic by nature.
^See New York State Archives, Record Group B0048, New York (State). Dept. of State, Respites and commutations, 1854-1931, Friday, May 16, 1884, Commutation of Sentence, Vol. 2, p. 31. He was not pardoned and thus still a convicted criminal but out of prison by reason of old age and various promises, later broken. He was subsequently convicted and incarcerated in Kings County Penitentiary until shortly before his death in 1889.
^ ab"Changes In The Prisons. James C. Stout To Succeed Warden Durston At Auburn". New York Times. April 4, 1893. Retrieved 2014-09-03. Gov. Flower has undertaken to 'shake up' the State prison Wardens, and some lively developments may be looked for during the next two weeks. Orders will be issued within a day or two directing Warden Charles A. Durston to proceed to Sing Sing Prison and relieve Warden William B. Brown, who will be requested to walk into the secluded shades of private life. ... The new Warden of Auburn Prison is to be James C. Stout of Auburn, and thereby hangs a political tale particularly interesting at this time ...
^"New Warden Named At Sing Sing Prison". New York Times. July 26, 1969. Retrieved 2014-09-02. The appointment of a new warden of Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, was announced today by the State Commission of Correction. ... Mr. Deegan will become warden of Auburn Prison.