A Cell from Wethersfield Prison

womensward.jpgAmong the remarkable objects in Wethersfield Historical Society’s museum collection are cells from the Connecticut State Prison. Many visitors may have previously viewed sections of a cell on display in 2007 following its donation from the Town of Coventry. The cell walls will once again be on display in the upcoming Connecticut State Prison exhibition opening in September 2014, Castle on the Cove: Connecticut State Prison and Wethersfield.

The whitewashed iron bars, showing flecks of muted green through paint chips, were part of a 30 cell block that was home first female to prisoners, then to death row inmates from 1900 until 1963.  The cell fronts were designed with a particular star-punch pattern that allowed for better ventilation and light in this notoriously dark wing.  The cells were forged by Van Dorn Iron Works in Cleveland, Ohio and shipped to Wethersfield by railroad.

cellincoventry.jpgThe Connecticut State Prison had women inmates from the time of the 1827 transfer from Newgate Prison in East Granby, but it was not until 1900 that they had these cells to call home.  The women’s ward was segregated from the rest of the prison and included a small private recreation space. The cells were 6 feet wide by 8 feet deep by 8 feet high furnished with a bunk, stool, privy and curtain for modesty. Due to social stigma and a hesitancy to convict the supposed weaker sex there was always a small percentage of women in the prison.  In 1930 all women inmates were transferred to the new women’s correctional institution in Niantic leaving an open section of cells.

This cell block next became Segregation, more commonly referred to as “death row” for troublemakers and inmates awaiting capital punishment. To get a guard’s perspective of Segregation, read Correction Officer Frank Ippolito’s memoir here .

Prison Cells moving.jpgOn November 7, 1963 all operations at the Connecticut State Prison ceased when the last inmate was transferred to Enfield.  The cells were still in good condition, so the Town of Coventry’s local jail (many other towns, state agencies, etc.) purchased the used Connecticut State Prison material and had it installed. In 2006 the Town of Coventry planned to renovate their jail and offered the cells to Wethersfield Historical Society. The Town of Wethersfield Physical Services Department generously moved the monstrously heavy cells to their final home at the Keeney Memorial Cultural Center .

Cell 1.jpgStaff and volunteers having fun installing the cell door in the museum in 2007.

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