Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine
This site has seen significant changes over the past three decades, from the first copper mine in colonial America to the first state prison in U.S. history before becoming a popular tourist attraction during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The site of the copper mine and Old New-Gate Prison is now a state-operated museum and a National Historic Landmark. The museum closed in 2009 for extensive structural repairs and reopened in 2017 on a limited basis. In July of 2018, Old New-Gate Prison & Copper Mine held its grand re-opening, signalling a return to the site as a place of interest for residents and visitors.
Backstory and Context
In 1773, the site was purchased by the Colony of Connecticut which built a prison named in honor of New-Gate, a notorious London prison. During the Revolutionary War broke out, New-Gate was used to house Tories and British prisoners of war. In 1790, New-Gate became the new nation’s first state prison.
Over its half-century as a state prison, New-Gate housed around 800 inmates, including four incarcerated women. In 1827, however, prison conditions were judged to be inhumane, even by early 19th century standards. The prison was also anything but escape-proof and had become extremely expensive to operate as a result. New-Gate was closed by the end of the decade and inmates were transferred to the newly-built state prison at Wethersfield.
While the process of renovation and repair progressed slowly, interest in the site continued. A 2016 open house with costumed interpreters drew some 1,500 visitors from all over the region. The museum was open for limited hours and a few special events during the summer and fall of 2017, including a Halloween event that allowed visitors to pretend the site was haunted. A grand re-opening scheduled for July 14, 2018 signaled the return of this site as a museum.
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