Proponents of turning the Nevada State Prison into a museum hope to start giving tours there by Nevada Day.
In late October 2011, retired Douglas High School teacher Myron Carpenter began an effort to preserve the prison after the inmates were moved out.
Eighteen months later, the effort by the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society has made some progress, but not as much as Carpenter would like.
Last week, Carpenter said he hoped to be able to begin tours for Nevada Day.
“I see there are a lot of things going on, and I figure this could be one more,” he said.
“Something that’s that old and has as much history as it does, should be preserved,” Carpenter said. “It’s the third-oldest prison west of the Mississippi. It was the first one to use the gas chamber.”
When Carpenter taught at Douglas High, he would bring his classes to the prison for a tour.
“It’s still haunting to me when I walk through the front door and then through the sally port, I can see the 600 faces of the prisoners,” he said.
The organization has the keys to the prison and can start offering tours when it’s ready.
Carpenter, the former president of the organization, said he has heard from other groups looking for museum space, including the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and the Warren Engine Co.
“Imagine three museums with five major highways relatively close,” he said. “We can draw all kinds of tourists. It’s just a question of getting people to come and help. We can make that place into a gold mine with that highway so close. I really believe that. I feel it will be a big boon for the state.”
Carpenter pointed to the popularity of Alcatraz as an example of a successful prison museum.
“Why tear the thing down like they did the roundhouse?” he said.
On May 21, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill into law that marked a major step forward in preserving the decommissioned prison. Assembly Bill 356 encourages the development of recommendations to preserve the prison for use as a historical, educational and scientific resource for Nevada.
The bill also encourages the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society to continue its involvement in developing recommendations to be brought back to the Legislature for consideration.
The prison operated continuously from 1862 — two years before statehood — until 2012.
Former Director of Corrections Glen Whorton said the group is most interested in the oldest part of the prison, which has 100-year-old buildings.
For more information about the society, go to www.nspps.org.