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Investigating the Historic 1834 Herkimer Jail

In 1834 inmates of the Herkimer County Jail armed with candles and newspapers set fire to the jail and with an ill wind the fire spread to additional buildings including the courthouse, the church and neighboring houses. After the fire, a new jail and courthouse were commissioned as was a church and eventually the Suiter Building.

After the tragic fire, the architect was commissioned to construct a jail that would not be as susceptible to fire as the previous wooden structure. The architect traveled to Auburn to review the 1818 Auburn Prison design and construction. Upon returning to Herkimer, the architect began construction on a stone jail built with 'fire-breaks' that would prevent any incidents from spreading. The Herkimer County Jail, also known as the 1834 Jail, is a two story structure with high basement, five bays wide, of ashlar limestone blocks with dressed quoins built in 1835. It features a gable roof with oval window and narrow cornice and a Federal style entrance.

The Herkimer Jail served not only to house inmates, detainees and those awaiting trial but also served as the living quarters for the family of the county sheriff until its closure in the early 1980s. As with most jails of the time, the building has seen many incidents over the years including reportedly a birth in the cells as well as many suicides by inmates.

In December of 1884 Roxalana Druce (Druse) murdered her husband in a horrific fashion and enlisted family to help her hide the body. Roxalana was subsequently arrested and held in the Herkimer County Jail. Her trial was held at the Herkimer County Courthouse. The trial was a national scandal sparking outcry for women’s rights and after she was hanged for the crime outside the 1834 Herkimer Jail(as the last person to die from hanging in New York State) her trial helped the introduction of the Hadley Bill in the NY State Assembly in January, 1887 to abolish capital punishment and substitute life imprisonment for women found guilty of first degree murder.

Then in 1906, the Historic Four Corners were once again engulfed in a national murder trial and scandal. Known as An American Tragedy, Chester Gillette was brought to trial at the Herkimer County Courthouse for the murder of Grace Brown on Big Moose Lake. Once again, Chester was held at the Herkimer County Jail, tried at the Herkimer Courthouse and even Dr. Suiter was brought in to testify at the trial. Chester Gillette was eventually found guilty and sentenced to die in the Electric Chair at Auburn Prison.

Herkimer Courthouse Ghost Caught On Camera

People have reported seeing shadowy apparitions and hearing strange noises through the halls. Even as the building sits empty today, there are many that say they have seen something.


After investigating the Suiter Building and Herkimer Courthouse in 2011, the Shadow Chasers have had a strong relationship with the Herkimer Historical Society offering the opportunity to investigate the Suiter building again for classes and other occasions. Recently, the Herkimer Historical Society was able to offer the team a chance to finally investigate the historic 1834 Herkimer Jail.

The investigation included members of the Chasing Shadows 201 class from Herkimer County Community College. While the cameras were being placed, the team members reviewed methods with the students and assigned rolls.

The team divided into three groups with each tasked with investigating a separate floor, the groups would then follow through investigating the location to verify any results from the previous sweep.

A few static anomalies were detected in the cellblocks on the first floor, second floor women's section and third flooor cells in the central 'mess' area. No additional environmental anomalies were detected at the location.

Throughout the investigation, the rain added contamination to audio recording both during EVP sessions and ITC sessions. In spite of the added contamination, multiple times throughout the investigation audio anomalies were captured on cameras and recorders as well as experienced on site.

Upon review, cameras captured several light anomalies in addition to recording multiple audio anomalies.