On My Own Recognizance: Rutland Prison Camp Ruins


August 16, 2013 — I’d love to present this post as evidence of intrepid exploring, casual scofflawing, and deep obscurity-unearthing on my part. Truth is, I drove right up to a few abandoned buildings that used to be part of a prison project and are now publically accessible in a watershed where anybody can fish, hike, or hide bodies. Actually, I’m assuming the hiking and fishing part.

Also, I took my three-year-old. That should give you the most context.


But that doesn’t really make the site less cool. I mean, it’s the graffitied ruins of a 110-year-old prison camp in the middle of 23,000 acres of wilderness. Let’s talk about it.

In 1903, Massachusetts created a prison camp in Rutland, right in the center of the state. Its purpose was put its less law-abiding to constructive work in a section that was basically a no man’s land. So the inmates went from Jailhouse Rock to Farmer in the Dell.

The area was converted into a self-sustaining farm where they grew vegetables, milked chickens, harvested cow eggs, and reflected on the crimes that got them there. Which is what I assume happens naturally in a life of grabbing udders and pulling ovoids from chicken butts. Stop it, I know how chickens work.

The camp contained prisoner dormitories, staff housing, coops, barns, silos, a water tower…even a tuberculosis hospital. There are some good pictures of it at its prime here, as well as a hand-drawn map of the camp.

In 1933, they tanked the whole idea and it became a watershed region for the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs, which hold the drinking water for Boston and the surrounding area. People don’t want prisoner in their water, I guess, so most of prison camp structures were torn down.

But not all of them. From what I could determine online, there were four main sites of interest still left, and I wanted to find them all, three-year-old in tow or not.

Going into this place, I had more information than I usually do. Again, it’s a pretty accessible site. Cross-referencing the abovementioned hand-drawn map with Google Maps, I was able to set my GPS right for the place...and even see the structures on Satellite View. Heck, one of the roads is called Prison Camp Road. It’s harder for me to get into a pair of pants than it was to get into this place. Man, I wish that wasn’t a joke.

I headed for the square formed by Intervale, MDC, and Prison Camp Roads. These roads, as my GPS had earlier alerted me with bright red panic, were all dirt. However, they turned out to be well-maintained. My Civic had no problem, to give you more context and to slightly emasculate myself.


The first structure rose up like the hollow hill it is to be unmissable even in its most overgrown state. The only exterior evidence that it was man-made was the stone entrance, which was also man-trashed with graffiti. Inside was a relatively large space supported by pillars and carpeted in rocks and detritus. This was the prison vegetable cellar, which is admittedly an absolutely anticlimactic reveal for what’s otherwise a pretty cool building.


Somehow I never grew out of the habit of looking for a clubhouse for me and my friends (mostly imaginary), and this would’ve made an ideal one once cleaned up. Old pictures show that back when it was filled with perishables instead of penis graffiti, the hill was by itself on a plain. Today it’s swallowed by the wild and just generally seems to dare entrance.

Right before the vegetable cellar was a turnoff and, within walking distance down that turnoff, was the second building. Now, this structure seemed less clubhouse-worthy than the vegetable cellar. Small, exposed, and divided into six small stalls, each with only one entrance…not counting the gaping hole in the roof. However, this is an actual prison remnant…all that remained of solitary confinement, now itself solitarily confined.



Each cell was no bigger than a closet, and part of the metal lock could still be seen embedded in the doorway. If I were to name each cell by its predominant graffiti, they would be: Night Shad, Pizza God, Meat Monster, Deki, [obscenity deleted], and Christopher Theodore Sinclair III.


Behind the cellblock, I noticed a four-foot-tall freestanding wall that extended into the forest. There wasn’t much to it, but when I passed its far end, I soon found gaping holes in the forest floor that seemed to drop ten feet down into a mess of rebar, concrete, and rubble. After some poking around I found that we had been walking atop the third site, an intact drainage tunnel.



The end had collapsed somewhat, but it was big enough to enter and I could see relatively far down it thanks to the patches of sunlight that skylighted through those rents in the ground. That said, filled with water and trash, tetanus and brain-eating amoebas as it was, there was no way I was going to explore it further than sticking my head in and playing with the echoes.


For the final site, I had to get in my car and leave the dirt roads of the watershed proper for the paved road that was Charnock Hill. Right on that road, close to where we entered the watershed was Goose Hill Cemetery.

We pulled over to the side of the road and walked up that hill of a death plot. The ground was disconcertingly spongy with moss, and if felt like I was walking on the softening dead. The gravestones dated back to the 1800s.

I was looking for a cemetery, but not this one.

Beside it was a dirt track marked with an unobtrusive wooden post labeled Rutland Historical Site 9. We walked down the track until it disappeared, and then just followed the opening wood until we stopped at a large clearing. All told, we walked much less than a quarter of a mile. Also much less than ten miles.

There in the undergrowth was a rectangular stone with a bronze plaque. According to that memorial, we were standing on what was once the prisoner cemetery. Beneath our feet were the remains of 59 inmates. The ground wasn’t spongy there.


And that was it. We raced the mosquitoes back to the car and took off. Everything was easy to find, completely legal to access in the daytime, and—even though it doesn’t look or seem like one—pretty much a family outing of a place.

That is, if you’re one for outing your family.











14 comments:

  1. I love your blog, I just discovered it :D

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    1. Thanks for letting me know. Really glad you're digging it.

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  2. I have been following you for awhile, and as always, I am entertained by your wit and your outlook on life. Your little girl is lucky to have two parents who look at life with such humor and curiosity.

    Way to go . . . keep it up!

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    1. Thanks, Christi. Really appreciate that. Of course, mostly we're just trying to balance out all he times we lock her under the stairs.

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  3. Been following you since I looked up info on Danvers, you're amazing and entertaining.

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  4. Hilarious! Happened upon a link on FB most haunted places in New England and this was one of them...googled it and here I am...definitely checking it out when the ground dries ;)

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  5. A couple of other ruins are the hospital and pump house. There are also is ruins of a schoolhouse and factory

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    1. FOUND THE HOSPITAL AT THE TOP OF THE HILL WERE ARE THE PUMP HOUSE,SCHOOLHOUSE AND FACTORY

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    2. come back down the hill and the pump house will be on the left by the river. the school house is in the clump of trees in the field across the street that has the bridge. the factory is harder to get to. its on the other side of the river thats runs by the main paved road. I've found other stuff exploring that whole state forest. there is a water fall, along with some more ruins. the old barn foundation, hen house.

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  6. Did you know there is a very large tuberculosis hosp foundation an awesome find

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  7. My Grandfather was a prison guard there during WW1, and my father was born on the property,a small farmhouse across the brook. I just found out from family members, my grandmother supposedly had tuberculosis, but my father always said influenza, apparently the reason they were there. Her brother and 1st cousin died of the Spanish flu, and she may have caught it. She never showed any signs of TB, and lived to her middle eighties. Anyway, during the was, I believe prisoners of war were kept there.

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    1. My grandfather and his family lived on intervale rd :) the Bigelows

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  8. That TV was left there/destroyed by me and my friends

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  9. My Dad worked at Rutland State Hospital in Rutland for 9 months. We lived on the hospital grounds. Place was haunted big time, that's why we left, among other things. I was in jr high, and had to sleep with a night light. Hospital, and houses on the grounds were bad for hauntings. We couldn't move back to NY fast enough. Everything has been torn down I heard. I've read there has been talk of building something on the grounds like condos. I wouldn't, what ever was haunting the place is still their I think.

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