Scenic USA - Connecticut

Old Newgate Prison

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Old Newgate Prison - East Granby, Connecticut

Photo by Ben Prepelka
Scenic USA Photography

   Remaining in the Viets family since Colonial times, the Old Newgate Prison was one of the first of its kind in America. A copper mine since 1705, Connecticut state officials approached owner John Viets about using the unprofitable mine as a prison in 1773. Old Newgate Prison Guard Tower Convincing Viets that he'd make an excellent prison guard, the mineshaft's drain and passageways were sealed off, limiting prisoners entry and exit only through the main 70 foot mineshaft.
     From the very first prisoner, many mysterious disappearances occurred over the years. Seldom mentioning these prison breaks, the horrors of this cold, damp underground stronghold quickly spread throughout New England. Dubbed Newgate after England's most notorious prison, many attempts were made to eliminate prison escapes.
   With arrival of many English (Tory) sympathizers during the Revolutionary War, prison conditions became overcrowded and unbearable. During the day prisoners Old Newgate Prison Entrance Door walked a conveyor belt to grind corn meal, while others worked in a nail factory. The prisoners slept on damp straw. Food, consisting of cornmeal mush and pickled pork, was dropped down the main shaft. A mad scramble ensued to grab the food from the filthy floor. With-holding rations, floggings and iron restraints were a common punishment.
   Tales of bribery, guard attacks, escape tunnels and massive jail breaks left behind a most riveting prison history. Closed during restoration, interior tours included a look at the guard house, John Viets tavern, and the tunnels where prisoners were held. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1972, the Old Newgate Prison is managed by the State of Connecticut and has essentially been a tourist attraction since 1860.

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