Modeled after the much older Auburn Penitentiary in upstate New York, the state prison was largely constructed by convict labor and opened in 1898. Resembling a medieval castle, the prison sits high on a bluff overlooking the Cumberland River and West Nashville. It was only operational for about 100 years.
Several escape attempts occurred while the facility was operational involving methods such as blowing up the outer wall and crashing a locomotive engine through the front gate.
Since the last prisoners were transferred to a modern facility, the facility has seen several uses. Most notably, the 1999 film, The Green Mile featuring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Ducan was filmed inside the prison. Scenes from, Framed (1975), Ernest Goes to Jail (1990) and The Last Castle with Robert Redford (2001) were all filmed at the prison.