History and hauntings await on a one-of-a-kind tour. 

For 150 years, the Nevada State Prison—located in Carson City—housed some of the state’s most high-profile offenders. Since shuttering in 2012, community groups have worked to preserve its past. 

HOTELS TO HOLDING CELLS

© University of Nevada, Reno Special Collections

In 1858, Abraham Curry—a founding father of Carson City—purchased the parcel that would one day house the prison, though he originally had other plans for it. The land possessed a bounty of natural resources including a hot spring and easily quarried sandstone. He improved the spring, built a hotel, and—for a few years—provided hospitality for the settlement’s first residents. 

In 1861, Nevada’s first territorial legislature met at Curry’s Warm Springs Hotel to negotiate who would staff the brand-new Board of Prison Commissioners. By the end of the meeting, they had elected to convert the very hotel they were staying at into a prison. It is unclear how this decision came about. One tale goes that the legislators got so inebriated that they trashed the property and offered Curry the contract as a reconciliation. Regardless, construction was soon underway, and Curry was appointed the prison’s first warden.

The facility’s buildings were built using the property’s own sandstone quarry. In fact, the main prison yard is located at the bottom of the quarry. Many of Carson City’s most prestigious buildings, including the Capitol and the Carson City Mint, were constructed using sandstone mined out by prisoners. 


By 2012, housing prisoners in the aging facility had become cost prohibitive. The Nevada State Prison closed after nearly 150 years of operation. Most of the 700 inmates were transferred to the High Desert State Prison, located in Indian Springs. 

TAKE THE TOUR

Today, prison tours are available through the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society. Generally lasting 90 minutes, these experiences provide an in-depth background on the historic buildings, holding areas, and facilities. Much of the complex sits in arrested decay; although most supplies and furniture have been removed, very little has been done to the prison since it closed a decade ago.

As a warning, some guests might find it difficult to visit the facility. It is, inherently, an imposing and bleak place. Prison cells are small and uncomfortable, and solitary confinement rooms—otherwise known as “The Hole”—are lightless concrete boxes. There is barbed wire coiled around tall chain link fences and guard towers loom everywhere. Then, there is the death chamber.

Until the 1970s, this was Nevada’s only prison and thus the only location that could house maximum security or death row inmates. In all, 54 men were executed here: 11 hung, 32 gassed, and 11 through lethal injection. The last execution to take place here was in 2006. 

The chamber was accessed through a giant door with a wheel—like on a battleship or a bank vault. Prisoners were escorted through the door and strapped to a chair or bed. A large window exposed the procedure to a viewing room, which is also the tour’s final stop.

Despite the heavy theme, tours are definitely worthwhile. A visit might bring a flood of emotions, but this is a unique, provoking experience and a rare opportunity to visit a historic—and recently closed—state prison.

GHOSTS IN THE PRISON YARD

If spending the predawn hours alone in an abandoned prison hunting ghosts sounds good to you, we have great news. This prison is widely considered to be one of the most haunted buildings in the state. For decades, inmates, employees, and—now—visitors have reported run-ins with the building’s spectral residents. 

Since closing, the prison has been the subject of many paranormal investigations including the Travel Channel’s “Destination Fear.” Nevada State Prison Paranormal (NSPP)—a nonprofit tour group whose proceeds go toward the prison’s maintenance and restoration—is your contact for your own spooky experience. 

If you opt for a standard daytime tour, you’ll still get the chance to view the photographs that NSPP has captured during its tours (usually posted in the exact spot it was taken). From silhouettes of tall shadows in corridors to ghostly faces captured in windowpanes, some of the images might leave even the biggest skeptic scratching their head. 

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