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Last updated: Sun. Aug. 25, 2013 - 02:29 pm EDT

Bridge crews unearth signs of Indiana's 1st prison

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JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Remnants of Indiana's first state prison and other artifacts dating to the state's early years have been uncovered as part of a project to build a bridge linking southern Indiana to Kentucky.

The discoveries include flint used to ignite Revolutionary War-era rifles and foundations, trash pits and drains associated with the penitentiary, along with animal bones that are believed to be from food fed to prisoners.

Andrew V. Martin, Indiana director of operations for the Lexington, Ky.-based Cultural Resource Analysts, told The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., that his workers found the remains of the prison, which housed inmates from 1822 to 1847.

Rick Jones, Indiana's state archaeologist, said it's unusual to find artifacts that haven't been disturbed by later development. A trash dump, houses and other buildings were eventually built on top of the prison site.

"In terms of urban archaeology, it's very important," Jones said of the discovery.

The items found at the site will be sent to the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis once they've been analyzed, Martin said.

The discovery won't hold up construction, even though the prison remnants made the site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Federal Highway Administration and Indiana state preservation officials decided that the artifacts can be removed and cataloged for study and there is no need to preserve the site itself.

The original jail included 10 windowless cells in a layout that resembled a modern motel, said Clark County historian Jeanne Burke.

"That's what it was like," she said. "There were no windows, of course, and the only light that got in was from the doors. The doors were strapped with iron and there was a 3-inch square hole in the door — and that's all the light and air the cells got."

The prison was dismantled in the mid-19th century, but portions remained.

Another archaeological review is taking place in Jeffersonville on land north of the Ohio River. Burke said that site is believed to be the location of a late-18th century fort and residence of former Indiana territorial Gov. Thomas Posey, who lived in Jeffersonville while in office because he disliked the then-capital of Corydon. Posey left office in 1816.

The items discovered at the old prison site could be related to early settlers nearby, said Jones, the state archaeologist.


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