Wethersfield Prison Blues

In September 1827, the newly constructed Connecticut State Prison opened its doors to eighty-one inmates once housed at Newgate Prison in Granby. The prison was modeled after a state-of-the-art penitentiary in New York, and the prison’s administration stressed prisoner rehabilitation during incarceration: prisoners labored by day to learn a trade, were allowed plenty of fresh air and exercise, and offered religious services and Sunday school classes.
Wethersfield Prison Blues_2008005001-thumb-320x213-347.jpgBoth male and female prisoners were housed in separate parts of the prison. Incarcerated women cooked, cleaned, and repaired clothing used in the prison, as well as made cigars. Male prisoners worked as carpenters, coopers, tailors, and blacksmiths, among other things. Until 1880, prison labor supported the cost of running the facility.

Many prisoners served long or life sentences at this maximum security facility. The incarcerated served time for everything from stealing horses, to arson, to murder.

Seventy-three prisoners were executed at the prison between 1894 and 1960, with fifty-five being hanged before the method was stopped in the 1930s. The others were executed by electric chair. On May 17, 1960, the last inmate executed was Joseph Taborsky, convicted of killing six people.

Wethersfield Prison Blues_1978126020-thumb-320x445-351.jpgViolence was common at the prison, and during its 136-year history two wardens and three guards were killed by inmates. The prison closed in 1963 when the Connecticut State Prison was moved to Enfield. The complex was demolished a few years later. All that remains on the former grounds is a small marker commemorating the site of the prison’s burial yard.

For the curious:

 * The Connecticut State Library has a database of prisoners which
you can search by name, town, or date. See if your ancestors were there!
Click the link above to find out.

* Package stores in Connecticut were once open until 11 p.m., but in
the 1960s legislature set closing times to 8 p.m. after Joseph Taborsky
went to the electric chair at the prison. He was convicted of a series
of murders and robberies, which included package stores.

* Jabez Woodbridge of Wethersfield patented the Automatic Gallows

#541,409) on June 18, 1895. Not only was he a town resident, he was the
prison’s warden from 1893-1899. Click on the patent number above to
view it.

* Amy Archer Gilligan (who was purportedly the murderess portrayed
in Arsenic and Old Lace) served time at the Connecticut State Prison.

Wethersfield Prison Blues_2009024002-thumb-320x222-349.jpgA version of this article was commissioned for the Encyclopedia of
Connecticut History Online currently under development by the 
Connecticut Humanities Council.

Go the “Additional Notes”

Return to the Wethersfield Historical Society home page.

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