The Haunted Tennessee State Prison

Bomar Blvd. Nashville, TN 37209

Tennessee State Prison is a maximum security facility that housed some of the most dangerous criminals of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Closed in 1992 for inhumane conditions, the disarrayed building has once again earned notoriety for its spine-chilling paranormal phenomena. One thing’s for sure. when in Music City, no concert will make you scream like this creepy institution.

The Union Station Hotel at Sunset, one of Nashville's most haunted Hotels

Did you know?

  • Several movies and music videos have been filmed in this fortress-like prison after it was decommissioned, such as the biographical film about Johnny Cash Walk the Line and The Green Mile, a 1999 crime drama starring Tom Hanks.
  • In 1831, when the prison first opened, it was known for the humane treatment of prisoners. Fast forward over a century later, the facility was shut down for its sketchy environment, overcrowding, and ill-treatment of convicts.
  • Prisoners were subjected to back-breaking labor, with the profits earned used to support the prison.
  • During its heyday, the prison housed notorious criminals such as James Earl Ray, the man accused of killing Martin Luther King.

The Ghosts of the Tennessee State Prison

Few places are more ominous than a maximum-security prison. Monsters lived here, murderers and psychopaths. Plus, a few innocents that didn’t deserve to be locked up. Imagine the fear, the intimidation, the power struggles, all boiling up and festering within the stale, unventilated penitentiary.

The prison was frightening enough while it was active, but it has become even creepier since it was abandoned. In 1992, when the operation was shut down, “The Castle” - as it is often referred to - began to slowly fall apart. Today, every inch of paint inside has bubbled up and peeled. The floor is covered with weathered sheets of paint and dust. Metal bars have rusted, and walls crumble like a dry cookie. The entire building is riddled with asbestos.

But has it stopped anyone from going in? Not a chance.

Despite the location being firmly closed to the public, some curious folks have managed to trespass to get their paranormal fix. We know it’s not safe to be inside, but the overall condition of the building isn’t the only threat.

Many of those who once called this place home died remorsefully and diseased in a filthy cell. The truly wicked were given the death sentence and taken to the execution chamber where “Ol’ Sparky” worked its magic. Others took their own life to escape confinement. Little did they know - even in death - there was no escaping the prison.

Those who have ignored the warning signs and dared to venture too far into the prison have witnessed some unsettling, nearly heart-stopping occurrences. Inside, some have heard what they believe to be cell bars clunking, and have followed the noise only to find there’s no one there.

Visitors swear they’ve heard blood-curdling screams while inside the building, believed to be the spirits of prisoners electrocuted to death, reliving their final moments. Disembodied footsteps have been known to echo throughout the halls. But with the evil that once lived here, it’s no wonder that ghosts have been unable to transcend.

A quick dive into the history of the state penitentiary reveals even darker details about the historic building and enforces why this joint is so haunted.

Tennessee State Prison History

Once the Tennessee State Prison opened its doors - or rather, its jail cells - in 1831, it quickly became overcrowded. The situation worsened in 1863 after the Union Army occupied the city and turned the penitentiary into a military prison. Because of this, the number of prisoners skyrocketed, and daily operations became much more of a challenge. The overcrowding also affected sex-segregation as men and women were forced to be housed in the same location.

The original penitentiary was demolished in 1898, with some of the salvaged materials used to build a bigger prison. This second structure had 800 micro-cells, equipped to hold just one person. With the new construction, officials aimed to emulate the architectural design and discipline models established within the Auburn Correctional Facility.

Located in Auburn, New York, the reformatory-type prison was the first to perform an execution by electric chair. It was also the first to implement perpetual solitary confinement and hard manual labor under strict silence.

When the state prison began accepting inmates, they enforced the same dead-silence guidelines. Their heads were to stay down at all times. And prisoners were not allowed to receive letters or calls from their loved ones unless it was absolutely necessary - life or death necessary.

Convicts slept in solitary cells and worked up to 16 hours a day. Factories, offices, and storage facilities were constructed inside the structure to allow for profitable prison labor. There was also a farm enclosed by an outer wall, reserved for women to grow crops in.

Physical work was used as a way to make inmates pay-off the cost of incarceration. In Nashville, prison labor became so popular, it came to compete with free workers.

Clearly, there was a lot of pent up anger here, especially when it comes to the wrongfully convicted. Aside from the criminals, some people didn’t deserve to be there but were still stripped of all human interaction and subjected to endless work hours. The reality is, the lifestyle inside this “humane” prison could easily drive anyone bonkers.

With the opening of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, the penitentiary was closed in 1992, prohibited from ever housing prisoners again.

Abandoned for several decades, the already decaying building was severely damaged after it was hit by a tornado on March 3, 2020. But all is not lost as there are rumors of it being restored and turned into a museum, allowing for a fascinating look into the city’s infamous past.

Know Before You Go

Tennessee State Prison is not open to the public and access is strictly prohibited.

Our Nashville Ghost Tours

Join Ghost City Tours in Nashville! If you want to learn more about locations like the Tennessee State Capitol we visit them nightly on our tours. Choose between our 2 Ghost Tours or our Haunted Pub Crawl.