Old Newgate Prison

East Granby, Connecticut
The historic Old Newgate Prison in East Granby, Connecticut, showcases the early American struggle with crime, punishment, and exploitation.
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About This Location

Old Newgate Prison in East Granby, Connecticut, presents a fascinating dive into the early American struggle with crime, punishment, and industrial exploitation. This site, now preserved as the Old Newgate Prison & Copper Mine Archaeological Preserve, offers a unique window into a multifaceted history that intertwines a colonial-era copper mine and Connecticut’s first official state prison.

Established in 1705 as a copper mine, Old Newgate’s history is steeped in early American industry and innovation. The mine itself was an ambitious venture initiated by the Woodbridge Company, with local Simsbury residents as shareholders. Despite the ingenuity and hard work, the venture faced numerous challenges, including restrictive British trade laws and inefficient mining methods, leading to its eventual failure.

The transformation of this site from an unprofitable mine to Connecticut’s first state prison in 1773 is a tale of adaptability and grim necessity. The labyrinth of underground tunnels and shafts, initially carved out for copper extraction, soon became cellars for the most notorious criminals of the era. Old Newgate Prison was intended as an escape-proof facility, a place where convicts could be isolated from society. This transition marked a significant shift in the penal system of the time, with a focus on incarceration over other forms of punishment.

During the American Revolutionary War, the prison’s role expanded to house prisoners of war, particularly those with Loyalist sympathies. The conditions within the prison were harsh and unforgiving, with overcrowding, limited air circulation, and forced labor in nail making. The notorious reputation of Old Newgate as “Hell” among the inmates testifies to the grim reality of 18th-century incarceration.

Despite its intended security, the prison was known for a surprisingly high number of successful escapes. Prisoners found ingenious ways to break free from the mine’s depths, from sneaking out of well shafts to overpowering guards. These escape stories add a layer of intrigue and mystery to the site’s history, reflecting the indomitable human spirit even in the face of extreme adversity.

After its closure as a prison in 1827, the site transitioned back to attempts at mining and eventually became a tourist attraction, showcasing its unique history. The prison and mine complex was acquired by the state historic commission in 1968, ensuring its preservation and public accessibility.

Today, Old Newgate Prison & Copper Mine serves as a poignant reminder of America’s early penal history and industrial ambitions. Visitors can explore the remnants of the prison buildings, delve into the underground copper mine, and reflect on the site’s layered past. The prison’s transformation into a museum also includes the Re-entry Hall of Change, honoring formerly incarcerated individuals who have positively impacted their communities, adding a contemporary and redemptive dimension to its legacy.

Old Newgate Prison & Copper Mine stands as a testament to the complexities of early American society, where industrial dreams, penal realities, and the quest for liberty and justice intertwined. It invites modern visitors to contemplate the evolving nature of crime and punishment, the human capacity for endurance and ingenuity, and the lasting impacts of our historical choices.

Location

Address: 115 Newgate Road, East Granby, Connecticut
Place GPS Coordinates: 41.961991, -72.745052
Parking GPS Coordinates: 41.961991, -72.745052
Parking Notes: There is a large dirt parking area for visitors of Old Newgate Prison. The parking area is located right off Newgate Road and adjacent to the old abandoned prison.

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