Old Newgate Prison Gates, East Granby, Connecticut

The front gates of the Old Newgate Prison in East Granby, around 1895. Image from The Connecticut Quarterly (1895).

The scene in 2018:

The Old Newgate Prison opened in 1773, in an abandoned copper mine in Granby – now present-day East Granby – Connecticut. The prisoners were housed underground in the old mine tunnels, with the idea that this would be a virtually escape-proof facility. However, the prison proved far less secure than its proponents had anticipated, and it was practically a revolving door in its early years, with some prisoners escaping almost as soon as they arrived.

During its first nine years in operation, more than half of the inmates who were confined here had reportedly escaped, and the above-ground buildings were burned on three separate occasions as part of escape attempts. Nonetheless, the facility remained in use, and in 1790 it became a state prison. A number of new buildings were constructed in the following years, and a new wooden fence was constructed around the perimeter of the prison yard in 1790. However, this was replaced by a more substantial stone wall in 1802, as shown here in these two photos.

The prison ultimately closed in 1827, and all of the inmates were transferred to the newly-built state prison in Wethersfield. This site was subsequently used again for copper mining, in the 1830s and 1850s, but neither attempt was particularly successful. In the meantime, most of the old prison buildings fell into ruin. By the time the first photo was taken in the 1890s, only two of the buildings were substantially intact, and one of these ultimately burned down in 1904.

Newgate had already become recognized as an important local landmark by the turn of the 20th century, and it was a popular destination for curious visitors. The site was eventually acquired by the state of Connecticut in 1968, and it was converted into a museum. Since then, the ruins have been stabilized, and Newgate has been preserved as a National Historic Landmark. As shown in these two photos, the 1802 stone wall has remained particularly well-preserved, and this view of the front gate still looks much the same as it would have to the prisoners who arrived here more than two centuries ago.

Old Newgate Prison Cell Block, East Granby, Connecticut

The cell block building of the Old Newgate Prison in East Granby, around 1895. Image from The Connecticut Quarterly (1895).

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this site was originally used as a copper mine during the first half of the 18th century. In 1773, the abandoned tunnels were converted into a prison, and for more than 50 years they were used to house convicts from across Connecticut. However, the old mine proved less secure than government officials had anticipated, and from the beginning the prison was plagued with numerous escapes and riots.

By the early 19th century, the prison had expanded to include a number of above-ground buildings, in addition to the old mine tunnels. The present-day stone wall around the complex was added in 1802, providing an additional level of security, but escapes continued to be a problem. Finally, in 1824, the prisoners were moved out of the tunnels and into a newly-completed cell block building, shown here on the left side of the first photo. This four-story building included cells for 50 prisoners, plus living quarters for the guards, prison offices, and a treadmill, where inmates would grind grain by walking on a human-powered wheel.

Despite these improvements, though, Newgate became a target for prison reform advocates, who saw the conditions here as being inhumane. As a result, a new state prison was constructed in Wethersfield, and the Newgate prisoners were transferred there in 1827. Fittingly enough, though, there was one last escape attempt, which occurred here on the night before Newgate closed. An inmate has requested to spend the night in the tunnels, and he used this opportunity to attempt an escape by climbing a rope in the well shaft. However, the rope broke, and he was killed when he fell back down into the mine.

After the prison closed, there were several attempts to continue mining copper here, but with limited success. Instead, Newgate went on to become a local landmark, and its tales were published in several local history books during the 19th century. By the time the first photo was taken in the 1890s, the prison had been abandoned for around 70 years, and many of the buildings had fallen into ruin. However, the 1824 cell block was still largely intact at this point, as shown on the left side of the first photo, and there was even an observation deck that had been added to the roof.

Unfortunately, this cell block building was reduced to rubble only a decade later, after a fire in 1904. This left the old guardhouse as the only intact building in the former prison complex, but the site remained a popular destination for visitors throughout the 20th century. Then, in 1968, the state of Connecticut purchased the property, stabilized the ruins, and opened it as a museum. The work also included digging a new entrance to the mine tunnels, which allowed visitors to descend via a staircase, instead of a vertical mine shaft.

The museum closed in 2009, due to the deteriorating conditions of the ruins. Over the next nine nears, the site underwent major repairs, and it reopened in 2018, around the same time that the second photo was taken. As this photo shows, there is little left of the old cell block, aside from some of the lower walls. The other buildings here, except for the guardhouse, are in a similar condition, but Newgate still holds a great deal of historical significance. It was one of the first copper mines in the American colonies, and one of the first state prisons in the country, and in 1972 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of federal recognition for a historic site.

Old Newgate Prison, East Granby, Connecticut

The Old Newgate Prison on Newgate Road in East Granby, around 1895. Image from The Connecticut Quarterly (1895).

The scene in 2018:

By the time the first photo was taken in the mid-1890s, the Old Newgate Prison was already recognized as an important historic landmark. Its history dates back to 1705, when copper was discovered here on the western slope of the Metacomet Ridge. A copper mine was opened here two years later, and it is generally considered to be the first copper mine in the American colonies. It was active throughout the first half of the 18th century, creating a network of tunnels that branched out from a vertical shaft.

The mine was largely abandoned for the next few decades, but in 1773 the underground tunnels were repurposed as a prison. The first warden was John Viets, who kept a tavern across the street from the mine. He provided food and other supplies for the prisoners, while also continuing to operate his tavern, which was known to occasionally cater to the needs of the wealthier prisoners. In 1774, the prison’s first full year of operation, Viets was paid 29 pounds, 5 shillings, and 10 pence for his services, and the following year he received nearly 150 pounds, although these amounts evidently include both his salary and his reimbursement for expenses.

The job of prison warden certainly came with its risks, and the 1892 book Newgate of Connecticut: Its Origin and Early History, by Richard H. Phelps, relates one such incident involving Viets:

At that time no guard was kept through the day, but two or three sentinels kept watch during the night. There was an anteroom or passage, through which to pass before reaching their cell, and the usual practice of Capt. Viets, when he carried their food, was, to look through the gates into this passage, to observe whether they were near the door, and if not, to enter, lock the door after him, and pass on to the next. The inmates soon learned his custom, and accordingly prepared themselves for an escape. When the captain came next time, some of them had contrived to unbar their cell door, and huddled themselves in a corner behind the door in the passage, where they could not easily be seen, and upon his opening it, they sprang upon him, knocked him down, pulled him in, and made good their escape.

Most of these prisoners were eventually recaptured, but this was just one of many such escapes from the old copper mine, which proved less secure than the colonial government had anticipated. In fact, the first recorded prisoner here, convicted burglar John Hinson, escaped after just 18 days, supposedly after a female acquaintance pulled him up via the mine shaft. This was followed by at least four escapes in April 1774, including one convict who escaped just four days into his sentence.

Prisoners here often took drastic measures in their attempts to escape. In 1776, a group of prisoners in the tunnel attempted to set fire to the blockhouse, which was situated at the top of the mine shaft. They succeeded in lighting a fire, but it filled the tunnels with smoke, killing one of the men and nearly suffocating the rest of them. The blockhouse was subsequently rebuilt, but it was soon burned again by the prisoners.

Probably the most dramatic escape from Newgate came in the closing years of the American Revolution, when the facility held a number of Loyalist prisoners. By this point, the prison had significantly increased security, including the addition of a fence and an increase in the number of guards. However, this did not stop a group of about 30 prisoners, mostly Loyalists, from taking control of the prison and escaping, as described by Phelps in Newgate of Connecticut:

On the night of the 18th of May, 1781, the dreadful tragedy occurred which resulted in the escape of all the prisoners. A prisoner was confined, by the name of Young, and his wife wishing to be admitted into the cavern with him, she was searched, and while two officers were in the act of raising the hatch to let her down, the prisoners rushed out, knocked down the two officers, and seizing the muskets of nearly all the rest who were asleep, immediately took possession of the works, and thrust most of the guards into the dungeon, after a violent contest. One of them, Mr. Gad Sheldon, was mortally wounded, fighting at his post, and six more wounded severely.

Some of the prisoners were wounded, but most were able to escape, although many were subsequently recaptured. Newgate continued to be used to imprison Loyalists after this incident, but in 1782 the prison was burned again, enabling the inmates to escape. This was, as Phelps noted, “the third time the prison buildings had been burned in nine years, since its first inauguration, and more than one-half of the whole number of convicts had escaped by various means.”

Newgate became a state prison in 1790, and officials soon set out to improve the facility. That same year, a wooden fence was constructed, creating a prison yard of about a half acre, and a number of new buildings were constructed. Prisoners generally slept in the tunnels, but they came to the surface during the daytime to perform work. The original intention had been to make the prisoners mine for copper, but officials quickly realized that their mining tools could also be used to aid in escaping, so this plan was scrapped. Instead, many prisoners made nails, while others were assigned to walk on the treadmill, a human-powered wheel that ground grain.

In Newgate of Connecticut, Phelps provides the following description of daily life here in the prison:

The hatches were opened and the prisoners called out of their dungeon each morning at daylight, and three were ordered to “heave up” at a time; a guard followed the three to their shops, placing them at their work, and chaining those to the block whose tempers were thought to require it. All were brought out likewise in squads of three, and each followed by a guard. . . .

After a while their rations for the day were carried to them in their several shops. They consisted for each day of one pound of beef or three-fourths of a pound of pork, one pound of bread, one bushel of potatoes for each fifty rations, and one pint of cider to every man. Each one divided his own rations to suit himself – some cooked over their own mess in a small kettle at their leisure, while others disregarding ceremonies, seized their allowance and ate it on an anvil or block. They were allowed to swap rations, exchange commodities, barter, buy, and sell, at their pleasure. Some would swap their rations for cider, and often would get so tipsy that they could not work, and would “reel too and fro like a drunken man.” . . .

All were allowed to work for themselves or others after their daily tasks were finished, and in that way some of them actually laid up considerable sums of money. A little cash, or some choice bits of food from people in the neighborhood, procured many a nice article of cabinet ware, a good basket, a gun repaired by the males, or a knit pair of stockings by the female convicts. . . .

The punishments inflicted for offenses and neglect of duty were severe flogging, confinement in the stocks in the dungeon, being fed on bread and water during the time, double or treble sets of irons, hanging by the heels, &c., all tending to inflame their revenge and hatred, and seldom were appeals made to their reason or better feelings. Most of them were placed together in the night; solitary lodging, as practiced at this day, being regarded as a punishment, rather than a blessing to them.

By the early 19th century, there were a number of new above-ground structures here at Newgate. The current stone fence was built in 1802, replacing the earlier wooden one, and during this period a new brick guardhouse was constructed atop the mine shaft. The nail shop was located on the north side of the yard, and the south side eventually had three buildings along the inside of the wall. In the southeast corner, closest to the foreground in this scene, was the chapel, which was built around 1815. Just to the west of it was a two-story building that housed a cooper shop, hospital, kitchen, and shoemaker’s shop. Furthest to the west, on the far left side of the scene, was a large four-story building that was constructed in 1824. It had several different purposes, with space for the treadmill, rooms for guards, and cells for 50 prisoners.

With the completion of this new building, the prisoners were able to be moved above ground, and the mine tunnels were no longer used on a regular basis. However, Newgate still faced issues of overcrowding and poor conditions for its inmates, and it became a target for prison reformers, who advocated the opening of a new, more humane prison in Connecticut. Throughout the early 19th century, Newgate also continued to have problems with escape attempts and riots, despite the many improvements here since the colonial period.

As a result, a new state prison was constructed in Wethersfield, and the old prison here in Granby – now located within the town of East Granby – was closed for good in 1827. However, in a fitting conclusion to its time as a prison, this facility saw one last escape attempt, which occurred on the last night before the prisoners were transferred to Wethersfield. On that night, a convicted counterfeiter named Abel N. Starkey asked to sleep in the old tunnels. The guards permitted this, and during the night Starkey attempted to escape by climbing up the rope of the well shaft. As he was ascending the shaft, though, the rope broke, and he was killed when he fell back down to the bottom.

After the prison closed, there were several efforts to revive the site as a copper mine, but with little success. For a time, the guardhouse was used as a private residence, with the owner often giving tours to curious visitors. By the late 19th century, much of the prison was in ruins, as shown by the crumbling walls in the first photo, but it had already become a local landmark and a popular tourist destination.

The prison would deteriorate even further in 1904, when a fire destroyed the 1824 cell block building on the left side of the scene. However, the rest of the property continued to be used for a variety of purposes during the first half of the 20th century. The guardhouse served as a dance hall during the 1920s and 1930s, and the grounds were occasionally used for public events and exhibitions.

The state of Connecticut acquired the property in 1968 and converted it into a museum. This included stabilizing the ruins, and digging a new entrance tunnel with stairs, which made it easier and safer for visitors to descend into the old mine. In 1972, the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark, in recognition of its historical significance as one of the first copper mines and one of the first state prisons in the country.

Because of structural problems, Old Newgate Prison was closed to the public in 2009, beginning a nearly decade-long project to stabilize the ruins. However, it reopened in 2018, and visitors can once again tour the remains of the above-ground buildings, and descend into the old tunnels. Following the 1904 fire that destroyed the cell block building, the old guardhouse is the only building here that survives intact, and its roof and chimney are visible beyond the walls in the 2018 photo. Otherwise, though, there have not been many changes in this scene, and the exterior of the prison still looks much the same as it did during the late 19th century.

Connecticut Hall, New Haven, Connecticut (2)

Connecticut Hall, seen from across the quadrangle on the Old Campus of Yale University, around 1901-1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in an earlier post, Connecticut Hall was among the earliest buildings to be constructed on the Yale campus. It was completed in 1752, and it originally featured a Georgian-style design that was modeled after Massachusetts Hall at Harvard. At the time, there were only a few buildings here at Yale, so Connecticut Hall served many different purposes in its early years. There was space for a dining room, library, recitation hall, chapel, and dormitory rooms, and the ground floor also housed the buttery, where students could purchase beer, tobacco, and other products not available in the dining hall.

Over the years, as Yale steadily expanded, Connecticut Hall was joined by a group of similar buildings that all stood in a line parallel to College Street. Collectively known as the Old Brick Row, these buildings alternated between long dormitories and shorter academic buildings. Connecticut Hall eventually became exclusively a dormitory, and was known as South Middle College. In the midst of this expansion, Connecticut Hall was altered around the turn of the 19th century, and the original gambrel roof was replaced with a peaked roof, as seen in the first photo.

The Old Brick Row was at the center of Yale for much of the 19th century, but by 1870 the school had adopted a new plan that called for new Gothic-style buildings along the perimeter of the campus, with a large open quadrangle in the middle, where the Old Brick Row stood. The buildings around the quadrangle were largely completed by the mid-1890s, and demolition of the old buildings began around the same time. By the turn of the 20th century, only three remained, and two of these – North College and the Lyceum – would be demolished in 1901. This left South Middle College as the sole survivor of the Old Brick Row, and at this point it was almost entirely walled in behind modern buildings, including Welch Hall on the left, Osborn Hall in the distant center, and Vanderbilt Hall on the right side of the first photo.

The old building was nearly demolished, but this threat sparked an outcry in favor of its preservation. As a result, it was instead renovated, soon after the first photo was taken. The most noticeable change on the exterior was the reconstruction of the gambrel roof, and the building was renamed Connecticut Hall. It would continue to be used as a dormitory throughout the first half of the 20th century, but it underwent another major renovation in 1952-1954, when the interior was gutted and converted into office space. Today, the building still stands, and it currently houses the offices of the Department of Philosophy. Now over 250 years old, it is the oldest surviving building on the Yale campus, along with being one of the oldest college buildings in the United States.

Farnam Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Farnam Hall on the Old Campus of Yale University, around 1894. Image from Yale University Views (1894).

Farnam Hall in 2018:

For much of the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Yale campus was dominated by the Old Brick Row, a group of buildings than ran parallel to College Street between Chapel and Elm Streets. However, in 1870 the school began converting the campus into a quadrangle, surrounded by new buildings along the perimeter. The first of these new buildings was Farnam Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1870 near the northeastern corner of the campus. Like the older buildings, its exterior was constructed of brick, but it featured a Gothic-style design that was very different from the comparatively plan buildings of the Old Brick Row. It was the work of Russell Sturgis, a prominent architect who would go on to design the other nearby buildings, including the Battell Chapel, Durfee Hall, and Lawrance Hall.

The first photo was taken less than 25 years after its completion, but very little has changed since then. Farnam Hall is now the oldest dormitory in use at Yale, and it currently houses freshmen students of Jonathan Edwards College. The only noticeable difference between the two photos is the loss of the two cupolas on the roof, but otherwise the building has remained well-preserved. The adjacent buildings – Battell Chapel on the left and Lawrance Hall on the right – are also still standing, and together these they form the northeast corner of the quadrangle, which is now known as the Old Campus.

Durfee Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Durfee Hall, on the Old Campus of Yale University, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Durfee Hall in 2018:

As discussed in previous posts, the Yale campus underwent dramatic changes during the last three decades of the 19th century. The Old Brick Row, which had been the defining feature of the school since the late 18th century, was steadily replaced by new buildings that surrounded a central quadrangle. One of the first of the new buildings was Durfee Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1871. Its design was the work of noted architect Russell Sturgis, who also designed several other buildings at Yale, including the adjacent Battell Chapel and the nearby Farnam and Lawrance Halls.

The four-story Dufree Hall was built with 20 bedrooms and 10 common rooms on each floor, with all of the common rooms on this side of the building, facing the campus, and all of the bedrooms on the north side, facing Elm Street. This arrangement was similar to the older dormitories at Yale, but otherwise its design was a significant departure from tradition, with ornate Gothic-style architecture and a brownstone exterior that contrasted with the older, comparatively Old Brick Row.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. Durfee Hall is still standing, without any noticeable exterior alterations, and so is the Battell Chapel on the right side. Along with the other dormitories on the Old Campus, Durfee Hall is now used as freshman housing, with students living here for a year before moving into one of the residential colleges for the rest of their time at Yale. Over the years, its residents have included Anderson Cooper, who lived here during his freshman year, and it was even the home of the fictional Rory Gilmore in the television show Gilmore Girls.