Sen. Kissel, legislators update public on Old New-Gate Prison rehab (Reminder News)

February 27, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Reminder News

Old New-Gate Prison to get new foundation may re-open this year
By Diane Church
Reminder News
February 25, 2015

When Old New-Gate Prison – a state-funded historical site – closed along with other state parks in 2009 due to a lack of state funds, the closing was just supposed to be temporary. When state funding was restored two years later, however, the site remained closed.

“We went in and the lights didn’t work,” said Karin Peterson, a longtime Old New-Gate Prison employee.

Lights shorting out had been a common problem in the prison’s damp underground cells. But that was only part of the problem. It turns out that the guardhouse was in danger of collapsing. Built long ago on mining waste left over from the site’s early use as a copper mine, the guardhouse’s foundation had been shifting and was also in danger of sliding down a hill.

However, state funding has been procured and plans have been drawn up for a serious stabilization effort at the guardhouse, the only original structure still intact from the prison days.

State Rep. Tami Zawistowski (R-61), along with state Rep. Bill Simanski (R-62) and state Sen. John Kissel (R-7), spoke at a meeting on Feb. 17 to update the public on the project. Daniel Forrest, a state historic preservation officer, gave the presentation at the East Granby Senior Center.

“I think the residents need to know what’s going on,” said Zawistowski. “The support of the community as a whole is important.”

Kissel said that, even though it is still winter, work is being done. The former prison may open, at least on a limited basis, later this year. “They are laying the groundwork for the coming months,” he said.

Forrest explained why the guardhouse is so unstable.

“It was originally built over the mine entrance to secure prisoners,” he said. “But the tailings were the foundation. They have shifted. The void between some of the stones is large enough to stick an arm or leg through.”

Previous work done in 1976 and 2000 failed to produce any long-term results. Forrest said this project will be more extensive, with a whole new foundation being dug. Small pilings will be added for further stabilization.
The building will have to be suspended by a crane for a time as the work is done. The lights will also be replaced. The project is expected to take about 180 days, but Forrest could not say when it will be completed.
The cost is $1.4 million, which Forrest said the state is covering with funds from real estate transaction fees. Once the prison site is open to the public again, Viet’s Tavern might also reopen if a buyer is found.
The project has been planned so it will not disturb the area where items from the prison have been found. Forrest said objects, such as homemade dice and a makeshift fork, have been found at the site, and archeologists want to explore some more.

“This is like King Tut’s Tomb,” said Peterson, who is very pleased with the planned restoration. “It tells us a lot about the men who were there. The fork is just a scrap of a nail that a prisoner bent into a fork so he could eat like a civilized human being.”

Simanski said that when he and his family moved to the state in 1987, Old New-Gate Prison was one of the first attractions they visited. “I’m excited to continue being involved in it,” he said. “Things are happening.”