Efforts to save a ramshackle 1898 Tennessee prison

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Tennessee State Penitentiary

(Circa 1898) Tennessee Main Prison

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — One look at the old Tennessee State Penitentiary and you know the ramshackle building is steeped in history.

More than a century has passed since the prison opened in Nashville’s historic Cockrill Bend in 1898.

The 800-cell, 50 building prison was built from 1893 to 1897. It closed and hasn’t been in operation since 1992.

  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary
  • Tennessee State Penitentiary, located on Church Street at Stonewall Avenue (present-day 15th Avenue)

Even if you’re not familiar with the historic Romanesque-style building, you may recognize it from the big screen.

The prison has been used in several Hollywood films – most notably The Green Mile, Walk the Line, and Ernest Goes to Jail.

There are efforts underway to preserve the old prison, despite the damage it incurred during the March 3, 2020 tornado outbreak, and the report of asbestos plaguing areas of the building.

  • (Photo courtesy TDOC)
  • Tornado damage to TN state prison

The Historic Nashville Inc. added the Tennessee State Prison to its annual Nashville 9 list in 2020 and 2011. The list consists of historic landmarks that are in the process of being threatened by development, neglect, or demolition.

Tennessee 225: Dive into the history of the Volunteer State.

Community members submit nominations for the Nashville 9 list, and HNI advocates for the recognition of the historic places and works to raise funds to help save them.

This year’s list is expected to be announced sometime in October.

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