Connecticut Trust For Historic Preservation

Historic Prison Cells, Coventry/Wethersfield

back to listings

Now in the custody of the Coventry Police Department, these two cells survive from the Wethersfield state prison. The facility opened in 1827 when 81 prisoners were transferred from Newgate Prison, which still exists as a state-owned museum. The Wethersfield prison closed in 1963 and was demolished two years later. A concerned citizen arranged for the cells to be rescued. The date 1827 appears above the cell door, which may denote the date of construction. However, at least one local historian contends that the cells are made of steel, which did not exist in 1827. They may have been installed when the prison was upgraded around the turn of the twentieth century. In any event, they are more than 100 years old.

As would be expected in a jail cell, the dimensions are cramped (eight feet by five-and-a-half feet). A thick sheet of metal pierced with rows of eight point stars form the stationary part of the front wall. A sliding door made of bars allows entry. The cells are outfitted with iron bunks hanging from chains. Historically, they would have contained folding cots.

Amy Archer-Gilligan served time in one such cell in Wethersfield. 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." The Coventry Police are scheduled to move to a new police station. Chief of Police Beau Thurnauer would like to see the prison cells preserved in a location where their historical value could be showcased. Whoever takes the cells would be responsible for their removal and transportation. Contact: Chief Beau Thurnauer, Coventry Police Department, bthurnauer@coventryct.org or 860-742-7331.