When's the Last Time You Went to Prison?

 Sarah Smith

If you haven’t been to Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, it’s time you paid this notorious place a visit. We just opened the gates August 4th for prison tours, moonshine, concerts, paranormal investigations, and tales of those who served time here. James Earl Ray was one of Brushy’s infamous inmates. And there were many other heartless souls that called this stone fortress home. The average sentence was 200 years or more in the early days and prison escapes were few and never successful. The rugged, rattle-snake infested mountains made it impossible. 

The entire staff at Maycreate was involved in getting things ready for the opening. We began this monumental task about 3 years ago. Signage for the prison tour, wayfinding, the restaurant (The Warden’s Table), gift shop, the museum, distillery, and the stage had to be researched, designed, written, and produced, as well as variety of items for our gift shop. We also had to gather, log and build display cases for all the historical artifacts that were part of the museum. 

The outbuildings and the inside and exterior portions of the prison had to be repaired, reconstructed, and in some cases, rebuilt from the ground up. Brushy was decommissioned in 2009 and officially closed after 113 years in operation. Prisoners were moved to the new Morgan County Correctional Complex, along with most of the prison staff. But the stories and the voices that echo down “3 Walk” and haunt this evil place in the darkness of night, live on.

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary originally opened in 1896. The first structure was four stories tall and built from wood harvested from the surrounding mountains. The prisoners not only cut down the wood, they built their own prison. This building was replaced in 1931 by the castle-like fortress you see today. Stone for the prison was mined by the prisoners and the 18-foot stone wall was constructed from hand-carved stone. Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, Brushy is the only U.S. prison to have a natural bluff as part of the wall.

In addition to the prison, there’s also The Warden’s Table, the Brushy Gift Shop, and the Museum and DistilleryWarden’s Table opens at 11 a.m. on weekdays and weekends and serves everything from Convict Chili to Yardbird salad. It’s southern cooking at its best and there’s plenty of room for family or large groups. 

Brushy’s Gift Shop is next to the restaurant and the perfect place to find a well-earned souvenir to remember your visit or to take home to family or friends. You’ll find colorful tees, koozies, patches, drinkware and more. And stacked on the shelves is End of the Line Moonshine. Distilled and bottled right here at Brushy Mountain, it comes in 10 unique flavors, such as Apple Pie, Cinnarum, Honey, and Frosted Orange, and there’s a legend in every bottle. 

A Museum is housed in the former Chapel and Prison Laundry. Just below the museum sits the oppressive confines of Brushy’s fearsome “hole,” the dark, dreaded, solitary cell that allowed only a sliver of daylight. In the Museum, many of the familiar and some unfamiliar objects of prison life sit in glass cases, their identity and purpose printed on small cards. You’ll find everything from shivs to handcuffs to old prison guard uniforms, and historical photos with fascinating captions. There’s also an 18-minute film on Brushy’s dark history and violent past.

If you’d like an experience you’ll never forget, Brushy offers paranormal tours—after hours and after dark. There have been a number of sightings. Some visitors have been touched or growled at. Not surprising, evil men who did evil things were imprisoned here. Our paranormal investigative team has visited many active and unsettling sites, but Brushy is by far the most haunted location they’ve encountered.

In addition to all of this, we’ve built a large stage which is located in the prison’s yard where we hold music events, featuring talented, well-known musicians and entertainers. Jamey Johnson, acclaimed singer-song writer, recently appeared on Brushy’s stage before a crowd of 4,000 fans. Coming up this fall, Brushy is hosting the Gambler 500 TN two-day challenge event. It’s 500 miles of off-road in a $500 beater, one of the biggest challenges in the Southeast.

Congratulations to the entire staff at Maycreate and all of those individuals and vendors who made this historic accomplishment possible. To find out more, visit TourBrushyShopBrushyFacebookTwitter or YouTube. We thank all of them for their hard work and contributions to this unique venue. And we extend an invitation to all of you to come on up and take in the history, the entertainment, the fascination of a place called Brushy Mountain, a memory and an experience you’ll never forget.