Castle on the Cove explores the Connecticut State Prison while it operated in Wethersfield between 1827 and 1963 and its significant influence on the town and its inhabitants. In partnership with the Department of Corrections, Wethersfield Historical Society crafted a compelling and thought-provoking exhibit that directly addresses community needs and interests.
In a dramatic presentation of artifacts, images, and explanatory displays, this exhibit reveals the evolution of crime, incarceration, and prisoner treatment over the 136-year lifespan of the state’s first purpose-built penal institution. The Connecticut State Prison was an integral component of Wethersfield’s identity during these formative years as it transitioned from rural town to suburb. This groundbreaking exhibit explores previously undocumented and often requested material on the state institution, and proved popular with locals and new visitors who wanted to better understand the relationship between the town and the prison.
The exhibit presents a comprehensive display that explores the prison from the perspectives of the inmate, employee, and local resident. This balanced presentation strategy gives the opportunity to present diverse and often conflicting viewpoints on a controversial topic. It also places the prison into historical context by discussing what was going on in the nation and in the criminal justice field at the times it was built and operated. Most importantly, it relates the prison to community building and historical memory, which encourages the audience to connect the exhibition to their own experiences while also considering the perspectives of others.
Castle on the Cove performs an important service to its community through its interpretation of a controversial and often neglected history. By presenting the Connecticut State Prison story with honesty and respect, the Wethersfield Historical Society successfully communicates both the changing prison experience and its importance to the town’s existence and development.