Old State Prison Cemetery Site

Arsenic and Old… This Place?
Site of old Connecticut State Prison, Wethersfield

May 27, 2007

eo4a.JPGConnecticut’s famously historic prison is in the north central part of the state – Old Newgate Prison up in Granby. There is a museum there and I plan to hit it around the time when our Metacomet Trail end-to-end hike ambles nearby. In the meantime, after a day in historic Wethersfield with townie EdHill, I settled for the ghostly spot of the old state prison

I don’t know much about the prison, except that some people were executed there and the story goes (from MamaHill) that the town’s lights dimmed when they flipped the switch to kill a prisoner. The whole building was demolished in 1963 and to the day all that remains is a large grassy field and a small marker denoting the spot.

ee1b.jpgThe prison opened in 1827 to replace Old Newgate Prison. Over the years, there were some “famous” prisoners, including Amy Archer-Gilligan. She was convicted of one murder, but was widely believed to have poisoned several residents of her Windsor old-age home with arsenic. Her story, reportedly, inspired Joseph Kesselring’s well-known play “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

While at the historic Cove Warehouse, we learned that after the flood of 1936, the prisoners used brute strength to move the warehouse back away from the Connecticut River. I’m sure there are hundreds of interesting stories about the prison and its former occupants. But all that stands today is a very modest in-ground marker denoting the existence of the prison cemetary.

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For the Curious

An old cell door exists in Coventry for some reason
Connecticut DOC History

38 responses to “Old State Prison Cemetery Site”

  1. Amanda says:

    I’ve been looking everywhere to find out why the old wethersfield prison was demolished… does anyone know why???

  2. James says:

    My great-grandfather Gerard Murphy was a Wethersfield resident and worked as a prison guard there, retiring ceremonially as a deputy sheriff for Hartford County. Here are a few details (circa the 1930s) about the Wethersfield prison as related to me by his daughter, my grandmother:

    prisoners wore blue uniforms; there was sewing and laundry, among other shops where prisoners worked; prison population was approximately half white, half black – from all over the state, their cconvictions covering the gamut from minor to most severe – good-sized population, 600 (?) or so inmates; my grandma as a young girl brought her class for annual tours of the place, and watched movies with her friends in a theater there that was alternately used by the public and then the prisoners; executions there (hangings/electrocution); occasional escapes, usually thwarted soon after; during flood of 1936, guards took prisoners out on boats to help…no shackles, just the watchful eye of a shotgun…everyone behaved; my great-grandfather once attacked my crazed, blade-wielding prioner…group of inmates saved his life.

  3. Mitchell Llorens says:

    Where is this cemetery located? or the name markers. I have walked the cove area where the Prison was located and all around the DMV, and all I have seen nothing, perhaps the Cemetery is behing the fence, which is state property. Can you elaborate on the location, thank you.
    Mitch

  4. Steve says:

    If I remember correctly, there is a huge house B&B type thing at the intersection of Hartford Rd and State St. Park in their drive/lot and walk across the field, parallel to Hartford Rd. Look for the inlaid stone in the 1st picture above and the marker is to the left of that, towards the far end.

    I think.

    By the way, that last picture of me was taken totally as a joke but now it just creeps me out.

  5. Mitch says:

    Thanks Steve, i know the marker you are talking about and the house you are talking about, the grass most be covering the grave stone markers, because they are not visible, but now that you have given me an idea i think i can look and find them, I’ll let you know when i do.. by the way don’t worry about the picture, at least if profs that they exist.
    thanks
    Mitch

  6. Mike says:

    Are there any pictures of the Old Connecticut State Prison, before or during the DMV construction period? Perhaps a news story in the mid-1960′s?

    Thank you.

    Mike

  7. Bill says:

    Mitch,
    There are no grave stone markers there only the one memorial stone stating the date of the prison. It is partially enclosed by a stone wall that is flush to the ground. The Hartford Ave side of the fence is now mostly covered by brush and trees that have encroached on it over the years.

    For those who are looking for it, the best way is from Hartford Ave walking down the fence line between the field and the Wethersfield Yacht club.
    Cheers, Bill

  8. Kathy says:

    I have been trying to find old records of inmates to the original prison. I am looking for information on a Sidney Morton Douglass which would have been a inmate in 1953.

    Can anyone tell me where I can get ahold of a list of the names to verify with?

    Kathy

  9. Rafaele says:

    Kathy,

    The census bureau publishes a manuscript and releases it to the public 70 years after the date of the census. So the census manuscript for 1920 was made available in 1990, for 1930 in 2000, and so on. I don’t know if there’s any way, at this point, to get the records for 1953. You may want to try newspapers for stories about particular crimes.

  10. Dave says:

    The experts on the Wethersfield Prison are Frank and John Winiarski who live on Hartford Ave in Wethersfield.

    By the way the 2 jail cells were donated to the Town of Coventry back in the sixties and were returned to the Weth Historical Society last year.

    The brick buildings behind the DMV were part of the prison. I believe they canned food there. Prisoners who had some money were buried in the nearby Wethersfield Cemetery.

  11. Steve says:

    Great info, thanks Dave. You’ll note that the jail cells in question can be seen here, during my visit I locked EdHill up.

    Though I think there was only one. So maybe Tolland kept the other one?

  12. Jennifer says:

    Looking for information on a former guard who was convicted of drug trafficing in the prison in the late 1950′s. Can anyone suggest a place to look. This is a geneology/ genetics reseach project and this person is a blood relative.

  13. John Bossidy says:

    I was 10 when my family moved into its new house on Buckland Road. Because we were on the west side of the Silas Deane Hiway, our church was Corpus Christi. I became an altar boy there, and spent many Sundays accompanying the curate, Father Glynn, to the old prison for Mass.

    I recall how deep into the massive building we had to travel to arrive at the small hall where we set up for Mass. Not too many prisoners attended the service, yet all seemed very dejected and prayerful. I recall their uniforms were tan at the time. Later on in the 1940s, we would play at least one baseball game per summer inside the open exercise yard, with the high and oppressive prison walls being the boundaries of the narrow and deep field. The prisoners had a few excellent ball players, and they always gave us a good game, beating our young team several times that I played. The most memorable facet of those games was the exuberant cheering of the inmates in support of the visiting players and the terrible and profane razzing of the prison players.

    Yet, all the inmates seemed to laugh loud and long and appeared to really enjoy the games. I don’t remember any home runs being hit over the prison walls, but many foul balls would fly over a near wall that was surrounding home plate. All the “cons” would jump to their feet when one went out and loudly offer to go out to retrieve it. The guards would simply laugh and tell them to sit back down and enjoy the game. On the few occasions when I would be in close contact with a prisoner, such as when we were exchanging places on the field between innings, their comments were friendly, their attitude the same, and I always felt they really appreciated our presence and competition. I was an outfielder, so I had few chances to chat with a prisoner except when I’d appear at the plate for my turn to bat.

  14. Mike says:

    My grandfather was a guard at Wethersfield. He retired as a captain. I just retired from the Indianapolis Police Dept. after 26 years and carried his whistle while I was on the job. I have some Pictures of the inside of the prison, I would guess from the 30′s. They show boxing football and holiday decorations. they also show my grandfather and other guards in the yard.

  15. John Spencer says:

    I grew up in Wethersfield. Attended Francis Stillman School. Our house was at the beginning of Nott St by the park. Can remember the prisoners driving by in trucks to go pick up coal I believe down by the train station on Church St. Can remember them throwing either baseballs or softballs from the trucks to us kids in the park as they drove by. I bring this up because I was in Wethersfield today at Cove Park and found the marker stone for the prison cemetary. Your right it is hallowed ground. Wondered how many are buried there from 1827-1963.

  16. EL says:

    i lived in wethersfield and remember the prison. i am looking for a book/articles about the old prison and it’s inmates, etc….it is an important part of wethersfield’s history. please advise
    thank you

  17. ann thomas says:

    Thank you for the info. I love to visit Cove Park. A friend told me about the prison and I couldn’t wait to look it up. Very interesting. I’d like to know more.

  18. Holly says:

    My parents lived down the street from the prison. And my uncle was a guard there for many years, My Mom used to tell us about the lights dimming when an execution happened. Also she told us of having to have our house searched when there was an escape. When my brother was young he used to ask my Mom for cookies to share with the trusties that did the yard work at the Chaplin s house next to ours.All I really remember about it was when it was being torn down. My brother and his friend John used to sneak into the prison to look around.Now if you know where to look you can see where the foundation used to be in the field.

  19. Sharon says:

    My Grandmothers brother was Michael Joy & was a Captain @ Wethersfield Prision in the 20′s.

  20. HollyS says:

    I came across a name of a prisoner that may or may not have been my grandfathers brother in law.
    Census says he was there in 1920 and 1930-he came from Italy in 1920 so must have done something right off the boat.
    I love to see some pictures. Would like to know why he was incarcerated but not coming up with anything.
    His name was Vincenzo Codispoti. the census pages have a lot of italian immigrants listed and inprisoned. curious as to why.

  21. brian buxton says:

    I remember the prison well in the early 1960s , dark , mossy , gloomy .

    My my { step } great grandfather was warden there as well as the penitentiary in Massachusetts .

    I have in my possession an ornate and masterfully carved library table , said by my grandmother to have been made in the prison workshop .

    She claimed it was made by a man named ” Vanzetti ” who was friendly with my GG ,

    Samual Chamberlain is a minor historical figure ,writing the book ” my Confessions ” about the mexican war in which he fought as a mercenary .

    Vanzetti is said to have given the table to Chamberlain , when he was warden in the 1880s .
    Inquired about the prison in the 1990s and found the historian unhelpful ,

    i will attempt to shed light on this again , in 2011

    Also I have notes , handwritten , as to design improvments to the prison and some funny tales concerning the prisoners , injuring themselves to get a look at the nurse !

  22. b.s. burnham says:

    I have blue prints of the old prison. and a rope club from the ships mast that was there.

  23. siryas says:

    my 4nd told me about it and it seems very intersted and gloomy to me. i love it.

  24. Betty says:

    Does anyone have any information about the bluestone sidewalks the prisoners put in about 1900 from Hartford Ave. around State Street to the prison?

  25. Roger K says:

    Old memories…all of them…playing at Stillman Park and wrestling for the softballs the trustees would sometimes throw off the back of the trucks carrying coal, climbing the back wall of the prison on the vines and wandering around after they had moved the prisoners out. Finding what we thought was the electric chair.
    There is one building left of the original prison that used to be inside the walls but can now be reaches by driving past the DMV inspection station and heading for the far, left corner. It is now the State Surplus disposal location. I’ve even bout some stuff from there until it went all online auction.

  26. LIZ (CARTER) PAPPAS says:

    I HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE MY GR. GR. GRANDFATHER LYMAN F CARTER, WAS IN THAT PRISON IN THE 1860′S. FOR INCEST.–GUTSY LADY MY GR GR GRANDMOTHER FOR BRINGING CHARGES AND DEVORCING HIM IN THAT DAY.
    IF ANYONE COMES ACROSS HIS NAME I WOULD LOVE TO SEE THE INFO, FOR DATES MOSTLY. THANX LIZ

  27. Linda Gray says:

    Database of prisoners http://www.cslib.org/wethers.asp

  28. Patricia Doolittle Tingley says:

    My piano teacher, Mrs Lillian Fales Poppin lived across the street from the prison. Riding my bike from Jordan Lane to her home, I often saw about 15 prisoners side by side pushing hand lawn mowers across the magnificent lawn.

    Later, in 1977, I was actually in a the building when it was converted to the Motor Vehicle Department.

  29. frank g winiarski says:

    anyone who has questions about the old prison may contact me

  30. frank g winiarski says:

    i can answer any and all questions regarding the old prison, i lived across the street on hartford ave, frankwiniarski@gmail.com

  31. Steve Wells says:

    The bluestone sidewalk that went around the old prison has sufferred greatly from Wethersfield town employees driving the trucks on it in order clear the snow. Now I have heard a rumor that they are planning to solve this problem by ripping up the bluestone and getting rid of the historic walk totally. I hope this rumer is false.

  32. Megan K says:

    I just purchased a house across the street from the old prison and went back in tax records to find that it was once owned by a Lillian fales poppin. I am still looking for the name of the original owner. i wish there was a website that had more information on the houses built on state street. We are trying to restore the house to its original appearance or close to it. Unfortunately we got rid of the piano in the house and I wish we kept it. I had no idea a previous owner used to give piano lessons out of our house.

  33. Steve K says:

    For those looking for the marker, I was just there. Bill said it best:
    “For those who are looking for it, the best way is from Hartford Ave walking down the fence line between the field and the Wethersfield Yacht club.”

    The fence line is obscured with brush + vines….just walk down that woods line approx 100 yards and there’s a bend left in the field. The marker is right there. If you reach Wethersfield cove, you’ve gone way too far….no inmate markers, but I assumed Mad Dog Taborsky was buried under the large patch of brown grass there….proving his madness was still killing the grass. I then read, he was used by medical science, cremated and thrown out somewhere.

  34. Nancy Ciampaglia says:

    I grew up at 311 Main St. which was a school, first wood which burned, then brick. My parents lived there from 1964 thru Nov. 2012. I understood a warden lived there and had prisoners install the chair rail in the living room. Any truth or feedback. It became a residence in 1928 so Mr. Walker was in that time frame. Thanks.

  35. frank g winiarski says:

    the wardens from wethersfied prison all lived on the prison grounds. the Solomon welles house served as the home for 8 wardens from nov. 1900 until December 1961 after which the prison nurse lived there until 1963 sincerely, frank winiarski

  36. Deb Cote says:

    Is there anyone who either has information on the prisoners in the Wethersfield State prison around 1900 or knows how they can be obtained?

  37. Timatha Pierce says:

    I was born in Hartford Hospital in 1940 and spent my first 5+ years in an old 2 family rental on Main Street in Wethersfield between the Wilcoxes and Hamner homes. I remember a lot of those years, the quicksand outside the prison walls. I remember guards searching our house for an escapee. We revisited Wethersfield ca. 1959. My sister and the Coates girls and I found a first floor window open and we “broke into” the prison exploring cells and turrets, many shot through. We investigated the electric chair and were ultimately scared out by what sounded like hundreds of bats on the top floor. We were out front when a security guard caught up with us. We told him we were just exploring. He asked if we’d like to see the electric chair. My sister piped up, “No, that’s okay. We already saw it.” Fortunately the guard had a sense of humor. We were not arrested for breaking and entering.

  38. Timatha Pierce says:

    Whoops, our excursion through the prison had to be a couple of years after it closed in 1963.

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