Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dannemora prison break teaches geography

            War may be a good geography teacher but so is a riveting prison break! Just as war taught many a geographically challenged person where Vietnam, Bosnia and Kuwait are in the world, a June 6th prison break taught many others where Dannemora, Malone and Constable are in New York State.



            Following the escape and capture of two prisoners from the Clinton Correctional Facility, maps showing the location of these three North Country communities were ubiquitous—printed in newspapers, broadcast on television, and posted online. The geography lesson was well taught.

Mess Hall in Dannemora"s Clinton Prison in 1912

            For those who desire to enrich their geography lesson, this additional information may be motivating. The state prison where the escape took place is located in the village of Dannemora, which grew up around a prison the state built in 1845 for the purpose of employing convicts in the mining and manufacturing of iron. The prison grounds were located on 26 acres and contained a steam forge, a rolling mill, and a steam separator capable of working 600 tons of ore monthly. At first the iron ore came from a state-owned mine but subsequently the ore came from privately owned sources.[1]

Dannemora's Clinton Prison in 1910
            The prison grounds and the part of the village that surrounds the grounds are also located within the town of Dannemora, in Clinton County. The town was formed from Beekmantown on December 14, 1854 and named for a celebrated community in Sweden where a large iron mine was located.[2]
            The town of Malone where the first escaped inmate was shot and killed is in Franklin County and was formed from Chateaugay on March 2, 1805. The village of Malone, incorporated in 1853, is the county seat.[3] Malone was the birthplace and only home of William Almon Wheeler, who served as the 19th vice president of the U.S. with President Rutherford B. Hayes.[4]


            The town of Constable where the second escaped inmate was apprehended was formed from Malone on March 13, 1807. The town’s northern border is the international border between the U.S. and Canada. From Constable, Montreal is about 50 miles to the northeast.[5]




[1] John Homer French, Gazetteer of the State of New York (Syracuse, NY: B. Pearsall Smith, 1860), 238.
[2] Ibid., 237.
[3] Ibid., 312.
[4] Herbert C. Hallas, William Almon Wheeler (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2013).
[5] French, Gazetteer of the State of New York, 310.

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