N.B. This article was originally published as part of “Preserving Haunted History—Tennessee” in 2012. With this update on the structure, this section has been broken out into a new article.
Tennessee State Prison
6410 Centennial Boulevard
The hulking Tennessee State Prison perched above the Cumberland River has recently been the scene of a prison strike. This strike, however, did not involve prisoners or guards, but a powerful EF3 tornado.
Around 12:30 CST on March 3rd, this powerful tornado touched down near the John C. Tune Airport, which received a tremendous blow before the twister crossed the Cumberland River. Crossing over Briley Parkway and bearing down on the old Victorian prison. Having been put out of commission in 1992 and only used for storage by the state Department of Corrections, the site was thankfully unoccupied by the living.
The tornado’s strike on the seemingly impregnable brick and stone facility caused the walls of the east cellblock to collapse. The prison’s main building, which sits just in front of the cellblocks with an array of castle-like turrets and a high-pitched roof, lost parts of its roof and blew many of the windows out. A nearby building housing records was demolished.
After crossing the Cumberland again, the tornado bore down in North and East Nashville, claiming several lives and causing extensive damage before heading east into Wilson County. Another tornado touched down in Putnam County about an hour later and claimed 18 lives as it moved towards Cookeville.
With the widespread damage done at the Tennessee State Prison, there are now questions as to what to do with the massive historic facility. Since its closure, the building has been used for storage and a news story several years ago reported that while the building was well built, that there were no plans to restore the building or hold tours due to the presence of asbestos and other dangerous materials.
The 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 was overcrowded, 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.” 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.
It is unknown what effect the tornado’s damage will have on the prison’s paranormal populace, though, I imagine that it will continue to have activity very much like the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Even if the state decides to demolish the magnificent building, I believe that the land has been imprinted with much of the negative energy and the site will remain haunted for centuries to come.
- 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 tornado damages prison used in ‘The Green Mile,’ ‘Walk the Line.’ 4 March 2020.
- Tennessee State Prison. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 March 2020.
- Tornado outbreak of March 2-3 2020. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 5 March 2020.