Friday, February 27, 2009

OLD NEWGATE PRISON

Back in my high school days in Simsbury, Connecticut my friends Bill DeMallie, Tony Trocchi, Mike Paine, Larry Van der Jaght, and I decided to ride our bikes to the Old Newgate Prison in East Granby. Granby is a town next door to Simsbury.

The Old Newgate Prison was originally a copper mine which started production in the early 1700's. John Higley struck copper tokens for the years 1737-1739 with these coins becoming known as the Granby tokens or the Higley coppers. Some of these coins had the phrase "value me as you please" and other coins said three pence. In 2005 one of these coins was offered for sale according to Numismatist for $240,000.

Old Newgate Prison started operating as Connecticut's first prison for burglars, horse thieves, and over all scoundrels in 1773. During the Revolutionary War Tories and political prisoners were held in this facility which closed as a prison in 1827 being deemed inhumane and too costly to operate. This historical site is now owned and operated by the State of Connecticut and available for visitors to tour these facilities.

Being an adventurous group, my friends and I embarked on exploring this underground prison. Descending into this dark,dank,depressing, dungeon-like cramped cave every visitor was given a small map of the established touring route. We noticed on this map that there was an additional sketch of another section of this former prison that wasn't part of the tour. We decided it would be fun to get the whole tour and explore this area which was roped off and had "danger,keep out, warning hazardous" and other suggestions. We had come equipped with our own flashlights and proceeded to explore the roped off section where some parts of this area were only about three to four feet high so we had to crawl our way through. We completed our thorough inspection of the prison undetected and then continued on to the approved pathway.

So, we fully experienced this prison mine and with our improvised tour of the facilities we felt we got a better value from our admission fee. The prison is always in the 50's in temperature so it is a cool place on a hot summer's day. The prison, I imagine was not so cool for the inmates during the 1700's. Back then there was no electricity, no television, no weight room, not even a law library so prisoners couldn't even educate themselves on how to overturn their conviction.