Litchfield County Jail

As you may have heard, the State of Connecticut is selling the Litchfield County Jail. Our collections document some of the jail’s history, but there are few exterior photographs of the structure and no interior shots. A recent open house provided staff with an opportunity to document the interior in its present state.

According to the Historic Resources Inventory, the Litchfield County Jail was originally constructed in 1812. Since that time, there have been several alterations to the building. The survey notes the addition of a cell block in 1846 and a three story brick wing with additional cell blocks at the end of the 19th Century. A Colonial Revival veranda was removed in 1987.

Perusing the town’s historic newspapers is a great way to learn about the jail’s history. An event that took place in November of 1822 is described in the American Eagle as “a high-handed riot.” The prisoners were said to have been given liquor from someone outside, and when it was gone demanded more. When this request was denied, they are said to have torn up the floor, broken chairs, and physically attacked the jailer.

The following year, the American Eagle published a notice that the “gang of noisy fellows” dispensing liquor to prisoners and disturbing the neighbors would be made public examples if their behavior persisted. Earlier in 1823. the same paper published a notice that a reward would be given for two men who escaped. A separate article described their escape:

After removing the stone under the floor of the prison, near the underpinning, and then with or without assistance from the outside, took out one of the stones from the underpinning, which it seems were not doweled together, into the hole they had made under the floor, and so made their escape through the aperture.

The October 22, 1846 Litchfield Republican printed the By-laws for the Regulation of the Litchfield County Work-House. The rules prohibited the prison keeper from holding any other office, and required him to reside at the prison. His wife was to be responsible for the welfare of the female prisoners. Required labor was expected of all prisoners, and they were expected to attend “divine service” on every Sabbath. The regulations also provide for the cleanliness of the prisoners and their bedding, clothing, and housing as well as their rations.

The building continued to operate as a prison for some time. A 1992 escape eventually led to the conversion of the facility to a drug treatment center for men. According to a 1994 New York Times article, a year later then Governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr. ordered it shut down. It reopened in 1994 as McAuliffe Manor, a rehabilitation center for women which closed earlier this year. Please let us know if you have photos or stories to share.

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About Linda Hocking

I have been the Curator of Library & Archives at the Litchfield Historical Society since 2002. I also serve on the State Historical Records Advisory Board, as President of New England Archivists, and as newsletter editor for the Academy of Certified Archivists. I have been a certified archivist since 2005.

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