Historic Nevada State Prison in Carson City not locked down, just yet
Former Director of Corrections Glen Whorton says he’s hopeful the Nevada State Prison will be named to the National Register of Historic Places next year.
That designation, he said, would be especially helpful in raising money to restore the prison as a museum and for other potential uses.
Whorton, who chairs the prison preservation society steering committee, said that group has prepared a report on the old prison’s potential for the upcoming 2015 Legislature.
That report envisions not only a museum and location for events of historic or community interest but space for commercial and light industrial businesses, state office and storage space and training activities for Nevada’s Department of Corrections as well as other state and federal agencies. Commercial uses could also provide employment for some inmates.
In addition, he said he has already had contact with Hollywood producers interested in using NSP as a film location.
“This is a long game,” he said. “This isn’t going to all happen tomorrow.”
Especially since access to the old prison is still limited by the fact the prison license plate factory is still located there along with its inmate crew. In addition, the prison still houses Nevada’s death chamber, although that hasn’t been used since 2006.
He said NSP could become a popular tourist destination — not only as a prison but for the fossils discovered on the grounds.
“There are a lot of prison museums but very few in close,” he said referring to the fact NSP is just two miles from the state capital and downtown Carson City. He said that puts it close to other Carson attractions, including the capitol and old state museum.
Whorton said he’s hopeful the State Historic Preservation Office will file the application for historic designation with the federal government in March.
NSP opened as a prison in 1862 in the former Warm Springs Hotel. It’s the third oldest prison west of the Mississippi after San Quentin and Alcatraz which both opened in the 1850s.
The core of the prison includes buildings made of stone quarried on site that are more than 100 years old. That quarry also provided stone for the state capitol, old Carson City courthouse and other structures.
NSP was finally decommissioned in May, 2012.
Whorton said everyone from state historians to Carson City and Skip Canfield of the State Lands Division has been supportive and helpful in generating the plan and getting ready for the historic/architectural survey to jump start the project.
“It’s just not as simple as opening the gate and taking people through,” he said.
But he said NSP’s historic value is undeniable.
“We were there before statehood,” he said. “The only thing that pre-date’s us is the Legislature itself.”
He said his interest in restoring NSP is a natural for a university history major who retired after a three-decade career with corrections.