In recognition of the first-ever New York State Museum Week, two of the buildings on the Historic Four Corners in the village of Herkimer opened their doors this past weekend.
The Friends of Historic Herkimer County have raised funds to renovate the 1834 Herkimer County Jail through the sale of brick pavers that have been installed in front of the historic jail on North Main Street. On Saturday, the Friends offered tours of the jail and local author James Greiner talked about the Roxalana Druse murder case and signed copies of his book, “Last Woman Hanged.”
Druse’s case is interesting, said Greiner. “When Druse was convicted and sent to court she did not sit with her attorney, she sat in a prison box with her daughter, facing the jury,” he said.
Druse was first woman and the last person to be executed by hanging in New York state. By writing “Last Woman Hanged,” Greiner said he wanted to dispel myths about the case and find the facts.
Druse, who remained in the jail from 1885 to 1887, was placed in one of two cells on the fourth floor in the attic. The cell no longer exists due to jail renovations that occurred in the early 1900s.
During the tour, all of the cells that remain at the jail were shown, including the cell of Chester Gillette. Gillette’s stay in the jail was from July to December 1906.
Since his case was high profile, Gillette stayed in what was known as the “high profile cell.” The cell has separate rooms inside, including a living space, a bedroom and a bathroom. When Gillette was in jail he hung photos and artwork in his cell. To recreate his cell for the tour, the members of the Friends group hung various photos and artwork on the walls to mimic Gillette’s old jail cell.
The tour also featured what used to be the sheriff’s living quarters, as well as the original kitchen which was used from 1834 when the jail was built until 1977 when the jail closed its doors.
The Herkimer County Historical Society also opened its doors on Saturday and featured the opening of a new display, “Herkimer County in the War of 1812.” The display commemorated the beginning of the war’s 200th anniversary. In addition to museum tours, the historical society opened its doors to its third floor and allowed the public to view a collection of unseen Herkimer County artifacts.
New York State Museum Week is a state-wide event continuing until June 6 and is sponsored by the New York State’s Tourism Division, I Love New York and the Museum Association of New York.