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Back to Brushy Mountain: the historic prison's past and future

The WBIR series "Back to Brushy Mountain" examines more than a century of history and the future of the fabled prison in Morgan County, Tenn.

Jim Matheny

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Update, May 13, 2018: If your device or WBIR app is not displaying the full article and videos (for example, some devices only show the first four paragraphs), click HERE. This will give you the best story experience with parts 1-5 of the series and all SideBar videos posted as chapters for easy navigation. All videos for the series can also be seen HERE as a YouTube playlist. 

(MORGAN COUNTY) Around 40 miles northwest of Knoxville, men who were stripped of their freedom dug into the hills and built a place once referred to as “the worst thing in the state” of Tennessee.

Brushy Mountain State Prison operated for 113 years before shutting down in 2009. In that time, it carved a place in the nation’s culture of crime, punishment, violence, and labor.

Now the bars of the vacant prison will shift from serving hard time to serving hard liquor. Developers say the prison should open as a moonshine whiskey distillery and tourist attraction within a few weeks.

Profiting from the prison brings the history of Brushy Mountain full-circle. The main reason the prison was created in the 1890s was for the state to make money. But the financial decision to build Brushy Mountain only came after a bloody battle between free Tennesseans over the state's previous system of cashing in on convicts.