If the 50-degree climate of the abandoned copper mine doesn’t make you shiver, the thought that these underground tunnels once served as sleeping quarters for convicted criminals will.
The Old New-Gate Prison and Copper Mine, a National Historic Landmark and State Archaeological Preserve in East Granby, CT, provides a fun, educational journey back to early American crime history. Kids and adults alike will have a great time wandering through the ruins of the prison workshop, clamping shackles onto their legs at the whipping post, and peering down the 40-foot mine shaft that once led prisoners to their beds at night and into what they called “Hell.”
Visitors describe the historic site as “creepy” and shudder when they come face-to-face with the seamy elements of criminal punishment. The site of the prison originally supported one of the first commercial mining operations in the British colonies, before the Connecticut General Assembly decided to convert the mine into Connecticut’s first colonial prison in 1773. Today, a long set of stairs takes you down into the mine shafts, where you are free to wander around without a guide and to discover the eerie cavern once reserved for solitary confinement tucked away in the back of the tunnels.
Outside the mine is a spectacular vista of the Farmington Valley, which must have given some convicts incentive to break out. Despite claims when it first opened that the prison was one of the most secure in the American colonies, its first prisoner escaped only 18 days after his initial incarceration up a 67-foot air shaft, which can still be seen today. Prison walls and buildings were later built around the mine to create better security, but they still had trouble keeping convicts from escaping.
If you visit the prison on the last Sunday of the month, you can take a guided tour of Viets Tavern. The unrestored tavern sits directly across the street from the prison and close to one of the few remaining houses purchased from a Sears catalog, which arrived unassembled with directions for construction. Lance Kozikowski, the tour guide, will regale you with stories about the prison and the tavern, like how convicts with enough money could enjoy a pint of beer and a meal with the help of a bribed prison guard. He may even challenge you to a game of skittles, a popular pub game from colonial America that involves spinning a top through a maze and accumulating points as it knocks down wooden pins.
Food is no longer served at the tavern or sold on the premises, so you should bring along a snack for the kids or plan a picnic. Make sure to stop by the gift shop after your visit, where you can purchase a unique array of mementos, such as a set of iron manacles or an early engraving of the prison by Richard Brunton, who served a 2-year prison term at Newgate in 1799 for counterfeiting.
Old New-Gate Prison has long been a source of fascination, going back to when people used to visit the working prison to tour the grounds and gawk at the prisoners. The prison ended operation in 1837 when all of the prisoners were transferred to a new state-of-the-art penitentiary in Wethersfield, CT. The grounds then became a commercial tourist attraction, where visitors could tour the abandoned mine tunnels, be entertained by a bear and her cub, and view antique cars, wax figures, and a WWI tank. Today, the prison allows you and your children to imagine the burglars, horse thieves, and counterfeiters who once inhabited the area and to live–for just a few hours–the life of a convict in colonial America.
New-Gate Prison and Coppermine
115 Newgate Road
East Granby, CT 06026
Current Admission Prices:
Adults $5, seniors (60+) and college students with ID $4, children (6-17) $3, children under 6 are free.
The museum will be open for the 2009 season from May 1st to Oct 31st. Walk-in visitors are welcome on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between 10am and 4pm. The last admission ticket is sold at 3:30pm.
A tour of Viets Tavern is available on the last Sunday of each month and is included in the admission fee. I highly recommend that you coordinate your visit to coincide with one of these Sundays if you can.
Visiting hours, days open, and admission fees are subject to change, so check the website before visiting.