Preserving Haunted History–Tennessee

Temperance Building
Walden and Roane Avenues
Harriman, Tennessee

Historic preservation and hauntings go hand in hand. Most often, those places known for their paranormal activity are also places that have preserved a great deal of their history: Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; St. Augustine, Florida and Natchez, Mississippi would most certainly qualify. This notion has made strange bedfellows at times with historians, scholars and preservationists teaming up with ghost hunters and paranormal investigators to help preserve historic locations. This was recently seen in an article from Britain’s Daily Mail, though the author takes it in more of a tongue in cheek fashion.

Temperance Building, 2010. Photo by Brian Stansberry, courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’d be interested to know how the citizens of Harriman, Tennessee and their efforts to restore their city hall reached the ears of the British Press. One wonders if they hacked the cellphones of the local city government in order to extract some of the details. Really, a story made the rounds via the Reuters News agency in a more respectful article by Tim Ghianni.

Harriman, Tennessee is a quiet town in East Tennessee, just off of Interstate 40 near Knoxville. The town was founded in 1889 by leaders in the Temperance Movement, the Victorian movement to free the country from the vise-grip of the vice of alcohol. Hopefully this utopia would provide a cleansing presence among the moonshiners of Appalachian Tennessee. In the Panic of 1893, the East Tennessee Land Company, which had been established to create the city, was forced into bankruptcy, though the Temperance leaders involved in the town marched forward. The large Romanesque revival structure on Roane Avenue was constructed to house the land company and with its closure, the building became the main hall for American Temperance University.

In the second year of the university’s existence (1894), it boasted some 345 students but that number dwindled by 1908 and the university shut its doors. The large building then served as a jail and went through a number of other uses before being occupied by the City of Harriman as a City Hall. Recently, the over 120-year-old building has required more and more maintenance; work that a city in the grips of the economic recession that has plagued the US can ill afford.

Locals have described the antique edifice as haunted for quite some time. The building is listed in John Norris Brown’s encyclopedic Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee website. Brown mentions that shadowy apparitions have been reported in the structure which have been identified as some of the early city leaders. These reports brought out the investigative team from G.H.O.S.T., the Ghost Hunters Of Southern Tennessee to investigate the building recently.

During their investigation, the team captured possible video evidence of spiritual activity as well as EVPs which they presented to the city council. In displaying this evidence, they have suggested that the city consider hosting tours and paranormal investigators with the city taking half of that revenue for use in restoring the building. This is a concept which has been employed successfully elsewhere including the Old Jail in Charleston, South Carolina.

Tennessee State Prison
6410 Centennial Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee

The article about the Temperance Building’s ghost was posted by Courtney Mroch of the blog, Haunt Jaunts, on the Haunt Jaunts Facebook page. A fan posted a link to a petition to save the Tennessee State Prison on the site’s wall and I made the connection between the two. While the petition is not concerned with the old correctional facility’s ghosts, it’s an important building that should be preserved.

Main Building of the Tennessee State Prison, 2006. Photo by Pepper6181, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Not long after Harriman’s Temperance Building was constructed, Tennessee’s new state prison was opened in Nashville. The Tennessee State Prison opened in 1898 to replace the old prison, which had been built in 1830. The new prison was constructed using prisoner labor and after opening, outbuildings were constructed using salvaged materials from the old prison. The day the prison opened, some 1400 prisoners were transferred into the facility which had been built to house only 800.

For almost a century, the prison operated at more than capacity and the treatment of prisoners was one of the issues driving the creation of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution nearby. When the prison closed in 1992, an injunction was issued preventing the state from ever using the prison to house inmates again. While the building has sat abandoned, it has been used as a set for a variety of movies including Earnest Goes to Jail and The Green Mile. It has also been used for television and recently was used for the video for Pillar’s “Bring Me Down.” Following the prison’s closure, it was opened to tourists, but the deteriorating buildings have become dangerous and are closed to the visitors. Guards now patrol the grounds keeping away the criminal and the curious.

Like hospitals and battlefields, most prisons tend to have paranormal activity. Visitors to the Tennessee State Prison have reported numerous sounds including the sound of the heavy metal doors closing. Other visitors have encountered apparitions of prisoners in the corridors and exercise yards while people passing by have reported seeing faces peering from the windows.

Throughout the US, historic prisons are being restored and maintained as museums to prison life and the inmates. Not only does this site possess an interesting and important history, but the Gothic-revival structure is architecturally significant. Additionally, these prisons bring tourists and ghost hunters to the area. Please consider signing the petition to save this important location.


  • American Temperance University. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Brown, John Norris. “Temperance Building.” Ghost & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Ghianni, Tim. “Ghost Hunters to raise money for ‘haunted’ Temperance Building in Harriman, Tenn.” The Huffington Post. 15 January 2012.
  • Harriman, Tennessee. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Keneally, Meghan. “Modern-day ghostbusters hoping to save their haunted house with guided tours may have a problem: lack of scary ghosts.” Daily Mail. 17 January 2012.
  • Morris, Jeff, Donna Marsh and Garett Merk. Nashville Haunted Handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press, 2011.
  • Save the Old Tennessee State Prison. com. Accessed 18 January 2012.
  • Tennessee State Prison. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 January 2012.

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