Hunting for abandoned places in Tennessee? You’re in the right place. Below are 12 of my favorite abandoned places across the state.
Abandoned Places In Tennessee
1. The Old Tennessee State Prison
The Tennessee State Prison in Nashville, Tennessee, has a long and illustrious history. It was built in 1898 under the Auburn penitentiary system, which was inspired by the fortress-style structure of the New York State Penitentiary in Auburn, New York. Through meditation, solitude, and “healthy” hard work, the Auburn system aimed to rehab an inmate. It was the first of its kind in the South, and was known for its lock-step marching.
Each of the 800 small cells of the prison was built for a lone inmate. Within the twenty-foot high, three-foot thick rock walls, an administration building, as well as numerous minor office buildings, warehouses, and industries, were constructed. A working farm was also established outside the prison gates, as well as separate facilities for younger criminals. Female detainees who worked on the farm were housed in a separate section.
During the tornado outbreak of March 2-3, 2020, an EF3 tornado extensively destroyed the enormous Victorian stone edifice. But not before this great example of abandoned places in Tennessee was immortalized in films such as The Green Mile, Framed, Ernest Goes to Jail, Against The Wall, and Walk The Line.
To protect the location’s secrecy, the institution was dubbed Walls Correctional Facility. Drone footage of the prison was used to make “On The Inside,” a documentary film about the prison that preserved the classic Victorian fortification before it was destroyed by the tornado.
2. The Hartsville Nuclear Plant
The Hartsville Nuclear Plant was a proposed nuclear power plant near Hartsville, Tennessee, that was never built.
This never-completed nuclear power plant is surrounded by the lush green hills of central Tennessee and spans over 2,000 acres. The project was doomed by erroneous projections of the region’s power needs. It was originally planned to have four cores. In the mid-1980s, work on the project came to a halt. Each of the four cores is at a distinct degree of completion, ranging from barely above ground to virtually finished. The unfinished structure is towering and abstract, clearly meant for utility rather than human habitation.
TVA purchased land along the Cumberland River in the late 1960s in order to build a facility that would meet the electricity demand of the 1980s. Construction of the building began in 1975.
On March 22, 1983, the Plant B reactors were shut down, and on August 29, 1984, the Plant A reactors were shut down.
Plans are already in the works to repurpose 550 acres (220 hectares) of the 1,940-acre (790 ha) land into an industrial park, similar to what happened with Washington’s Satsop Nuclear Plant. Personally, I’m a sucker for abandoned power plants making this location one of my favorite abandoned places in Tennesee.
3. The Sterick Building
The Sterick Building, Memphis, Tennessee’s former “Queen of Memphis,” has been vacant since 1986.
The tower’s spire was white stone with a green tile roof, and it had its own bank, pharmacy, barbershop, and beauty parlor, as well as stockbrokers’ offices. Granite and limestone were used to construct the first three stories.
In downtown Memphis, there is a 365-foot abandoned structure. When it was built in 1930, this gothic-style tower was known as the highest building in the South. It had fallen into disrepair by 1960 and has been unoccupied since 1980.
The Commercial Appeal reported in 2012 that officials were pushing for a feasibility study of a mixed-use development of the 111-meter tall gothic-style tower, as well as national marketing of the vacant monument once the study was over.
Because it is so large and in an area where demand for office space has fallen, redevelopment of the once-glimmering site is said to be a difficulty.
4. Millennium Manor Castle
A pink marble mansion designed to withstand a biblical apocalypse is now a labor of love for a couple in Alcoa and a mediaeval roadside attraction for passers-by.
Have you ever seen a house designed to withstand the end of the world as described in the Bible? Did you know that Alcoa, Tennessee has one?
According to a Bible interpretation, Armageddon would occur in 1959, and William and Emma Nicholson would be among the 144,000 virtuous individuals who would survive and live for 1,000 years.
From Pickens County, Georgia, William Andrew Nicholson and his wife, Fair, relocated to Tennessee. William worked as a mason and carpenter, and after landing a job at a nearby business in Alcoa, he and his wife began construction on the Manor. The couple, who were devout Christians, believed Armageddon would occur in 1969 and began building the castle in 1937.
After being abandoned, the property became a homing beacon for vandals and trouble-seeking teenagers. Juanita eventually sold the house in 1995, and it has been privately held ever then. The Millennium Manor of the best-preserved abandoned places in Tennessee.
5. The Gay Street Underground
Gay Street was a business hub at the bottom of Summit Hill’s steep slopes prior to the 1920s, linking the Southern Railway tracks to the Tennessee River for carts transporting freight and other cargo to the barges.
The city began developing ways to make the climb up Summit Hill easier on the horses and carts around the turn of the century.
Between the rambling viaduct over the railroad tracks and the top of Summit Hill Drive, construction began in 1919 to raise the 100 block of Gay Street up a story and make the route less steep.
Some buildings were demolished and rebuilt to achieve this accomplishment, but the majority of them had their first floors relocated underground and turned into basements.
The Emporium, which also has a vivid mural, has a basement for ten to twelve structures. Some of these areas have been turned into workplaces or homes. The 100 block of Gay Street is also served by more contemporary utility lines. The Gay Street underground is one of the few abandoned places in Tennessee that is occasionally used to run city utilities.
6. Pressman’s Home Trade School
The ghost town of Pressmen’s Home is located in Hawkins County, Tennessee, just outside of Rogersville. The former headquarters of the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union of North America has been left to its own devices for a long time, resulting in a melancholy tribute to the past.
From 1911 to 1967, the headquarters served as a hub for the military, with a post office, church, sanitarium, trade school, hotel, and even a retirement home.
During its heyday, Pressmen’s Home was its own town, with residents receiving electricity before the rest of Hawkins County. The headquarters’ shift in 1967 was led by opposing unions in the 1960s, and the region quickly vacated.
Some of the most notable buildings from the lively beginnings of Pressmen’s Home may still be seen, notably the tuberculosis sanatorium and administration building, which housed the vocational school.
Despite the fact that the neighborhood has deteriorated and has the feel of a ghost town, there’s nothing like visiting Tennessee’s legendary history to get a sense of how things used to be.
7. Sanitary Laundry Building
The brown brick structure at 625 N. Broadway Avenue in Knoxville doesn’t exactly catch the eye from the street. The former Sanitary Laundry Building, however, opens up into 30,000 square feet of dusty concrete, Christmas-colored bricks, and rusted artefacts of its heyday behind those boarded-up windows.
It was formerly a major employer in the North Broadway area, having opened in 1926.
Until 1993, when the cleaning operation ceased for good, people made a living and served the community within its walls. For years, the structure stood empty, steadily degrading due to weather, break-ins, and squatters.
During a tax sale process in 2014, the City of Knoxville purchased the Sanitary Laundry site and began planning for its future.
8. Historic Brushy Mtn. State Pen
Brushy State Penitentiary was founded in 1896 in Morgan County, Tennessee. Prisoners were housed in wooden barracks and forced to labor in coal mines nearby. Brushy Mountain was a maximum-security prison for the worst criminals in the state’s penitentiary system throughout the majority of its existence. Many of its convicts were serving life sentences or had been transferred to Brushy because of disciplinary issues at other state prisons.
Years of complaints of awful conditions at the Brushy Mountain jail appeared in Tennessee newspapers, and by 1930, the main facility had been labelled a firetrap. In 1933, it was demolished and replaced with a new concrete and stone structure. The sandstone utilized in the construction of the new institution was mined by inmates.
Brushy Mountain Penitentiary was closed by the state of Tennessee in 2009. On June 4, 2009, the last inmates were released from Brushy. The prison’s closure was a financial blow to the town, as many local inhabitants in Morgan County had spent their entire working lives working at the jail. Since the facility’s opening in 1896, several families had worked there for up to five generations.
The Brushy Mountain Group, which also owns a distillery and restaurant on the site, opened the former prison for public tours and events in 2018. Despite the site giving tours, it’s still an example of what happens when a prison is abandoned and is one of the best abandoned places in Tennesee that’s legal to explore.
9. The Knoxville College
The United Presbyterian Church of North America created Knoxville College in 1875 as a historically black liberal arts university. The school opened 10 years after slavery was abolished as part of a missionary effort to educate freed slaves. Because most freedmen and women were not qualified to attend college, the institution began with elementary lessons. The 39-acre campus is made up of 17 buildings that are strewn across a hill that overlooks a residential neighborhood. During the Civil War, the hill was the site of a Confederate battery.
The campus includes a performing arts facility, a gymnasium, a library, a student center, and a chapel, in addition to classroom and administrative facilities. McKee Hall, the administration building, was the first to be constructed in 1876. It is not, however, the oldest structure still standing. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1894, and it was reconstructed a year later using student-made bricks. In 1877, the site was formally designated as a college.
After the 1926-27 academic year, the elementary department was shut down. In 1931, the high school was closed. The school played an important part in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Due to a continuous reduction in enrolment, the college began to struggle financially in the 1970s. Knoxville College was dealt a death blow when it lost accreditation in 1997. The financial position became bad all of a sudden. Due to a significant drop in enrolment, most athletic programs were also canceled.
The institution remained open into the 2000s, with only 11 students enrolled. The school’s president was sacked by the board of trustees in 2005. The alumni anticipated that fresh leadership would bring new energy to the ailing campus. A successful fundraising drive resulted in the appointment of an interim president. Unfortunately, the interim president was unable to turn around the deteriorating institution. He quit not long after he was hired.
Knoxville College has regrettably fallen into disrepair, despite having eight buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the college is a shell of what it once was. The board of trustees persisted in their efforts to restore it.
The Knoxville College is one of the largest abandoned places in Tennesee on our list, so if you’re in the area be sure to stop by and check it out.
10. Rule High School
Rule High School first opened its doors in 1927. Captain William Rule, a former Union Army captain who later served as mayor of Knoxville and editor of the Knoxville Journal, was the inspiration for the name.
It was an elementary-junior high school when it first opened in the fall of 1927, with 525 pupils in the primary grades and 261 in the junior high and high school grades. Year after year, lower grades were deleted until the school only had grades 7–9.
However, due to poor enrolment, the school dissolved in 1991. Knox County acquired it as surplus property from Knox County Schools in 2016.
In September 2016, the hilltop football stadium that overlooked the downtown Knoxville skyline was dismantled. The old construction is now completely inaccessible.
The 1949 extension has the appearance of a haunted house rather than a school. The roof has fallen in several places, and the floor is strewn with debris. Some rooms and halls are completely impenetrable, and most locations require the use of a flashlight to see.
While there are more exciting abandoned places in Tennessee, Rule High School still serves as an excellent example of early 1900s architecture for public schools.
11. Eastern State Hospital Farm Dorm
After more than a decade of financial delays and political infighting, the East Tennessee Hospital for the Insane was built on land originally owned by Capt. William Lyon. With 99 inmates transported from the earlier Tennessee Lunatic Asylum in Nashville, the East Tennessee Hospital for the Insane opened in 1886. As part of an effort to rename all of the state’s asylums, the facility’s name was changed to Eastern State Hospital in 1920.
Harmon Kreis, a member of the 59th General Assembly and a wealthy marble maker, had a son named Jonathan A. Kreis. He bought some of the land and started the Riverside Dairy between 1910 and 1917.
Mental health inmates were housed in the dormitories and worked on the farm, which was known as the Eastern State Hospital Dairy Farm.
This institution was deeded to the University of Tennessee in 1973 after it closed in the late 1960s. However, for a while, the Knoxville Community Release Center was housed on a piece of the Eastern State campus.
The land is being used as an outdoor agricultural teaching and research facility by the UT East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center Holston Unit. Beef cattle, forage production, and weed management are the key research topics.
The dormitory remains sealed and underused, a slowly fading legacy of the Eastern State Hospital Farm, even though the property is still in use.
12. Stadium Inn
The Stadium Inn is hands down one of the wildest abandoned places in Tennessee. From the hotel’s crazy stories to its insane squatters, the inn has earned quite an infamous reputation throughout the state. The hotel operated for about 50 years and seemingly was always regarded as a zero-star place to stay.
Rooms were as cheap as $25 per night, and rooms were moldy, uncleaned, and not a place anyone sober would want to stay. During its operation, there were numerous claims of assault, theft, and even four deaths that took place inside. While the building finally closed, the reviews are still online for everyone to see.
The Stadium Inn sits blown out and abandoned. Vagrants and squatters can be found in and around the structure but honestly, it isn’t that much different than when it was in operation. If you’re nearby, it’s worth getting an exterior shot, but the inside isn’t anything special and can be dangerous as it’s often inhabited by squatters.
Go out and explore!
That concludes our list of abandoned places in Tennessee, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to find. Take the back roads, follow train tracks, and find some places for yourself. There are plenty of places I kept off this list so get out there and explore.