What’s with the “castle” in West Nashville? If you’re driving along Briley Parkway ~6 miles west of downtown, you might notice a towering fortress sitting off the side of the highway and ask yourself a similar question.
In reality, that’s no castle at all. Rather, it’s the former Tennessee State Prison, which opened in 1898 and closed in 1992.
Also called “The Wall,” the 120-acre prison cost $500,000+ to build — that’s over $15 million today. From day one, the operation had its problems with 1,400 prisoners admitted but only 800 single-person cells. Overcrowding and poor conditions were present throughout the prison’s nearly 100-year history, ultimately leading to its closure.
High-profile individuals served time at the maximum-security facility — like James Earl Ray, who was convicted for Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. And other well-known figures just spent time there. This list includes Johnny Cash (does “A Concert Behind Prison Walls” ring a bell?) and even Elvis Presley, who visited Johnny Bragg. He was the lead singer of The Prisonaires, a blues group known for “Just Walkin’ In The Rain,” which was cut during his incarceration.
Though the building may look abandoned, it’s not. The Tennessee Department of Corrections has restricted access to the property, primarily for safety reasons.
Prior to the March 2020 tornado, which caused extensive structural damage, the public could get a rare view of the grounds during an annual 5K run benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. The interior was partially utilized for storage by TDOC.
Since its closure, you’ve likely seen the prison used as a backdrop on the big screen. Movies filmed on the property include “The Green Mile,” “Ernest Goes to Jail,” and “Nashville.”
Bonus: Watch this walk-through of the property via TDOC from 2016. Skip ahead to ~7 minutes in to see portions of the interior at that time.