With what he described as excellent help and cooperation from the Department of Corrections, former prison director Glen Whorton said the public will soon be able to tour the historic Nevada State Prison.
The first tours will be offered April 16 as a fundraiser for the Carson Chamber’s 2016 Leadership Class Project.
But Whorton said the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society is planning to offer tours this summer two or three days each week to the general public. He said he hopes to start those tours in late April-early May.
“Actually we’re engaged in training tour guides as we speak,” he said. “Besides training folks we have to settle a couple of issues with the state fire marshal and public works.”
He said retired former warden Robin Bates is managing the tour guide training and some of the guides are former corrections employees who worked at NSP. Hopefully, he said, they will be able to add some personal stories and anecdotes for visitors to learn more about the prison and how it operated for 150 years.
Whorton said everyone from the governor’s office to the current warden and staff at Warm Springs Prison just east of NSP has been cooperative in getting the prison ready for visitors. With some buildings and cellblocks that date to the 1930s, it’s not exactly ADA compliant in some areas or, frankly, visitor friendly. It was, afterall, Nevada’s only prison for most of its existence.
Whorton said the plan is to offer tours for “about 10-bucks a ticket.” The tour would include, among other things, a trip through the sally port — the high security entrance to the prison and its central yard.
Whorton said going through the sally port gives visitors a real feel for what it’s like to enter the historic prison.
“When you go through that triple sally port, the whole thing opens up ahead of you,” he said. Cell Block A and the maximum security area also are on the tour as is the culinary unit and other parts of the prison.
Cell Block A was the preferred inmate quarters since those cells were larger and offered a bit more privacy than other units at NSP.
The tours also will talk about such things as the “Bull Pen” — the uniquely Nevada casino that operated inside NSP for years.
For the time being, however, the execution chamber and surrounding area are off limits since that’s the one remaining part of NSP that’s still (potentially) in use. It will be finally shut down once the new execution chamber in Ely is completed.
NSP opened in 1862, two years before Nevada became a state, making it the third oldest prison west of the Mississippi. Only San Quentin and Alcatraz predate NSP.
It closed to inmates January 4, 2012, and was officially decommissioned in May of that year.
NSP is the site of the nation’s first gas chamber — 1924. The third and last gas chamber is still Nevada’s execution chamber, now using lethal injection. All together, 32 inmates died by cyanide gas, another 11 by lethal injection — the most recent in 2006.
The chamber fundraising tour will cost $10 a person, $25 per family of two adults and up to three children and $5 for seniors.
Whorton said the plan is to offer general tours for about the same cost, which he described as a pretty good deal for a 90 minute tour.
The sandstone quarry on the NSP grounds provided construction material for some of Carson City’s oldest buildings including the state Capitol. Archaeologists have also found mammoth tracks in the sandstone there as well as other prehistoric evidence.
Whorton said the site is also drawing interest from Hollywood as a potential set because of its historic appearance. He said Ghost Adventures has already filmed an episode there for the Travel Channel and other shows have shown some interest.