Historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary
Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, holds a significant place in the annals of history, renowned for its long-standing operation and the stories that linger within its walls. To truly appreciate the grandeur and complexity of this historic site, one must embark on a comprehensive exploration. The panoramic image presented below offers an extraordinary opportunity to do just that. It allows viewers to take a 360-degree look around the penitentiary, providing a unique perspective that captures every angle of this imposing structure. This immersive experience not only showcases the architectural details of the prison but also offers a glimpse into the past, allowing one to ponder the many tales and events that have transpired within its confines. Through this panoramic view, the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary stands revealed in all its historic glory, a testament to its enduring legacy in Tennessee’s history.
Image by: Noah Hill
Image by: Ethan
Image by: Noah Hill
About the Abandoned Prison
Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, often referred to simply as “Brushy,” has a storied history that encapsulates the evolution of the American prison system and the socio-economic shifts of Tennessee. Established in 1896, Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was built in the wake of the Coal Creek War, a pivotal labor uprising in Tennessee that led to the end of the convict lease system. This system, involving the leasing of convict labor, was highly controversial and faced widespread opposition, culminating in its abolition.
The prison’s initial batch of inmates, numbering around 210, were among those previously subjected to the convict lease system. These inmates were put to work in various capacities, including mining, farming, and building the prison’s infrastructure. The original structure of Brushy Mountain was predominantly wooden, but it was replaced in the 1920s by a more robust stone building, constructed from limestone quarried by the inmates themselves. This new structure was designed to house around 600 inmates, though it often held nearly double that number.
Throughout its history, Brushy Mountain functioned mainly as a maximum-security prison. In the 1980s, its role shifted to a classification facility, processing inmates to determine their appropriate security levels. Despite this change, it maintained a maximum security section for the state’s most troublesome inmates.
One of the most notable incidents in the prison’s history was the escape of James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., in 1977. Ray, along with six other inmates, managed to scale a fence and flee the prison, only to be recaptured less than 58 hours later.
The prison’s closure in 2009 marked the end of an era. It had become the oldest prison in the state, and its location, constrained by Frozen Head Mountain, along with high operational costs due to its age, made it less viable. Inmates were transferred to the expanded Morgan County Correctional Complex, which added significant capacity.
Today, Brushy Mountain has found a new life as a tourist destination. Reopened in 2018, the site now features a distillery, a restaurant, and offers tours to the public. The guided tours, led by former guards and inmates, provide a glimpse into the prison’s past, including the cell blocks, the solitary confinement area known as “The Hole,” and other key areas of the facility. The transformation of Brushy Mountain from a maximum-security prison to a tourist attraction is a fascinating example of how historical sites can be repurposed, providing insights into the past while contributing to the local economy.
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