The Nevada Senate on Sunday passed legislation designed to boost efforts to convert the oldest parts of the historic Nevada State Prison into a museum, tourist attraction, scientific and historic center.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said the bill was originally created through the efforts of the late Carson City Assemblyman Pete Livermore. Kieckhefer urged members to support it.
Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, questioned what would happen with the state execution chamber that is still at NSP. Kieckhefer said the bill is contingent on all prison activities having ceased at the prison.
The vote was 20-1 with Smith opposed. AB377 goes to the governor for his signature.
Former Director of Corrections Glen Whorton says the old prison, which pre-dates statehood, is closely tied to the history of Carson City.
It was originally the Warm Springs Hotel but was converted into the state’s first prison in 1862. It burned down in 1867 and again in 1870 before state officials decided to build it from sandstone quarried at the site.
It operated continuously as a prison until it was shut down in 2012. But the license plate factory continues to operate in the prison, although not in the historic portion of the yard.
That same quarry provided sandstone to build the state capitol and old attorney general’s office as well as the Carson City courthouse, effectively making it the state’s first prison industry.
“That institution has been out there 150 years and it has had a dramatic effect on our community,” Whorton told supporters earlier this year.
He said NSP could become a major tourist attraction like Alcatraz in San Francisco. He said it would combine well with the V&T Railroad and state museum to draw tourists and could become a major location for movie studios.
In addition, there are prehistoric bones of animals and footprints of mammoths that have been found in the sandstone at NSP.
The Assembly bill introduced by Carson City Republican P.K. O’Neill directs the Department of Corrections to determine which portions of the old prison are appropriate to become a historical, cultural, educational or scientific resource.
It requires the state Land Registrar to work with corrections, tourism, cultural affairs and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society to develop the old prison as a historic, educational and scientific resource.
To help pay for that project, the bill creates the Silver State Industries Fund and, each year, transfers any money in that account to the Fund for the Historic Preservation of the Nevada State Prison to maintain the historic buildings and other property at the prison.