Old Tennessee State Prison – Nashville, Tennessee - Atlas Obscura

Old Tennessee State Prison

This defunct, fortress-like prison has been the setting for several movies.  

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Modeled after the much older Auburn Penitentiary in upstate New York, the Tennessee State Prison was largely constructed by convict labor and opened in 1898. Resembling a medieval castle, the massive building sits high atop a bluff overlooking the Cumberland River and West Nashville. It operated as a prison until 1992.  

Several escape attempts occurred while the facility was operational. One attempt involved several prisoners actually blowing out an entire wing of the prison. After the last prisoners were transferred to more modern facilities, the old prison became a prime filming location. Most notably the 1999 film, The Green Mile featuring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Ducan, was filmed inside the prison. Scenes from, Framed (1975), Ernest Goes to Jail (1990), and The Last Castle with Robert Redford (2001) were also all filmed at the prison.

Update as of March 2020: A tornado toppled large portions of the old prison, its future is unclear.

Know Before You Go

The prison is still surrounded by tall walls and barbed wire, so viewing from the roadside is the only option. Keep an eye out in the springtime and put on those running shoes. Each year, a charity 5K race runs through the prison. It's a moment to catch a tour and hear stories from old guards.

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