My love for abandoned buildings recently led me to the old Tennessee State Prison, an imposing castle like structure deserted for nearly twenty years now. This historic compound sits high above Cockrill Bend on the Cumberland River. When the prison was first opened in February of 1898 it was well outside the city limits of Nashville. Today an industrial area slowly encroaches the prison borders. These borders are still well guarded by thick prison walls topped with concertino wire and thick iron gates that would not look out of place in a medieval castle. If this was not enough to protect this legendary site, guards from Tennessee Department of Prisons make regular patrols of the grounds.
Like most historic structures the abandoned Tennessee State Prison has a storied past. From the very beginning there were problems at TSP. Two cell blocks containing 800 single occupancy cells were immediately inundated with 1,403 prisoners on the very first day the prison was opened. To further aggravate the overcrowding was a lack of ventilation and the ensuing sanitary violations.
During the operation of the prison several riots occurred including one where prisoners blew out the end of a cell block killing one inmate and allowing others to escape, never to be recaptured. On a later date inmates took over the segregated white wing of the prison for 18 hours before guards regained control. One of the more notorious escape attempts occurred when inmates seized control of a switch engine in 1907 and drove it through a prison gate. Notable riots also occurred in 1938, 1975 and 1985.
At least 125 people were executed in Tennessee between 1916 until 1960. During this time period executions by electrocution took place at the old Tennessee State Prison. While many prisoners were incarcerated here, probably the most famous was James Earl Ray who was convicted of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Since the closing of the prison several movies have been shot at this location, including The Green Mile, Attica, and The Last Castle.
The day that I explored this urban fortress was windy with foreboding clouds. Nashville had endured a week of severe thunderstorms with record setting rains. The first
building that I entered was the dilapidated death row building. This was the most unassuming building from the outside, and was very dark and dank inside. Water dripping from the ceiling echoed throughout the deserted cells. It was especially eerie as I walked into the tiny room where the electric chair once sat. As I continued to poke around through the detritus of the past I was forced to use my flashlight to spotlight areas to even get my camera to focus in the dim rooms. Some of the places, such as the processing rooms between cell block B and C were so dark I could not see my hand in front of my face, and I was not sure what my camera had captured until later. All in all this was a very interesting place to spend a summer afternoon. Here are some of the photos of my day in prison. Hope you enjoy!