Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine
National Historic Landmark
State Archaeological Preserve
Connecticut's first prison
MUSEUM AND GROUNDS CLOSED FOR RESTORATION
Construction in progress at the Visitor Center:
Installation of a new lighting system in the mine tunnels:
Trenching in the prison yard (overseen by an archaeologist) for the installation of electrical service for the mine lighting system:
The presence of copper ore here was noted in 1705 and the site became one of the first commercial mines in the British Colonies. It was not a money-making venture, however, and work was abandoned in the 1750s.
The tunnels left behind by miners burrowing deep underground became Connecticut's first prison in 1773. The General Assembly decided to confine serious criminals - burglars, horse thieves, counterfeiters, forgers - in a working environment as an alternative to the whipping post and other "infamous punishments" of the day.
The first prisoner arrived on December 22, 1773. He escaped 18 days later. Subsequent prisoners were equally resourceful and many escapes - successful and unsuccessful - were to follow. Richard Steele, a "notorious villain and burglarian," held the record of three escapes from New-Gate. Political prisoners were confined here during the Revolutionary War and women were first committed in 1824. Considered costly to run and inhumane, the prison was closed in 1827. Attempts to revive mining operations failed.
Visitors enter the prison yard through 12'-tall walls. The brick guardhouse still stands and houses exhibits, but only ruins remain of the other prison buildings. A modern stairway provides access underground where air temperature is always in the 50°s. The visitor center features a gift shop.
Across the street from the prison is Viets Tavern, the unrestored, mid-18th century home of first prison warden, Capt. John Viets and his wife Lois.